After 90 years, Mizell Lumber in Kensington shutting doors

December 16, 2011

Jeannine Mizell is looking for a new job.

After working at Mizell Lumber & Hardware since 1981, she and her brother Don will close the doors to the family business in Kensington, which opened 90 years ago.

“There is just something special about walking into a business and your name is over the front door,” said Mizell, 55. “There is a sense of pride in that.”

Mizell’s has been at 10500 St. Paul St. since 1931, when Jeannine’s grandfather bought the property. The store left its first site, on Knowles Avenue, after 10 years because of flooding.

“Our building has been here ever since granddaddy bought it in 1931,” Don Mizell said as he flipped through a family photo album.

The two siblings inherited the business in 1984 after their father died of a heart attack. A couple of months ago, they started telling contractors that they were going to close the store. A downturn in sales amid the recession and its lingering effects proved too much.

“It’s been at least three years now, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight,” Jeannine Mizell said.

For at least 20 years, general contractor Mike Wood has been buying from the historic store with creaking wood floorboards and a lumberyard out back. He was saddened to hear that the store will close its doors Wednesday. (The first plan was to close Friday, but the day of reckoning was delayed after the siblings had trouble unloading their remaining stock of lumber, nails and bolts.)

“I enjoyed coming here so much more than the bigger lumberyards,” Wood said. “If I needed a couple of bolts or a $1,000 order of lumber, I would come here. You sort of see things coming, but you really hope it’s not going to happen.”

Paul Amtower’s relationship with Mizell’s goes back to his childhood. “This is more than a supply [store] — I’ve got my childhood memories here,” he said.

As a youngster, Amtower said, Jeannine and Don’s grandfather, Russell, paid him a nickel to pick up cigarette butts on the parking lot. As he got older, he did other jobs around the shop for a quarter. He immediately spent the money at the local ice-cream parlor.

But his fondest memory is of his tree fort.

“When I was 9 or 10, we would make tree forts with scrap wood their grandfather would give me from the saw tables,” said Amtower, now 65 and still a resident of Kensington. “We would bring our bikes or a wagon and drag them home.”

He showed Don and Jeannine a picture from 1956.

“It had three levels,” he boasted of his fort.

Amtower credits his time at Mizell’s to helping him choose a career.

“That’s what actually got me started, really,” the contractor said. “Back then, I picked up a hammer, and I haven’t put it down since.”

It was hard for him to watch the unfamiliar faces coming into the store and haggling for a deal, he said.

On Friday, town officials took a cake and other goodies to the store to say farewell.

“I feel like I’m losing a family member,” said David Wimbush, who’s been a truck driver for Mizell’s for 24 years.

When Wimbush began started working at the lumberyard, he said, he planned on staying there for a few years and then moving on.

“Then 10 years went by, and another,” he said, laughing.

Wimbush said that when he made his final lumber delivery, to the National Zoo, everyone hugged him. Now he, too, must find a new job. He doesn’t know what it might be. But he hopes it will be with another small company that has the same kind of family feel as Mizell’s.

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