DeCou Lumber Co., one of Atascadero’s oldest family-held businesses, is closing its doors after filing for bankruptcy earlier this month.
“Some people have been shopping here for 40 and 50 years, and they’re devastated,” said company president Jay DeCou, 56, who has been with the business for 42 years.
Among them is 40-year customer Jerry Vandergone, who used DeCou supplies to build his house.
“I think it’s the saddest thing that’s happened to this town in 25 years,” Vandergone, 60, said.
DeCou Lumber Co. owes about $1 million to Mission Community Bank and has an additional $300,000 in merchandise not yet paid for, according to its June 5 bankruptcy filings.
The business’ roughly 14 employees were notified last week, and customers received heartfelt goodbye letters in the mail.
Jay DeCou declined to state annual revenues and profits for the business.
The DeCou family purchased the lumberyard in 1937. It has employed four generations of DeCous over the years and provided jobs to many other residents.
Jay DeCou, the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce’s current citizen of the year, started out at the family hardware shop and lumberyard when he was in high school. He recalls sweeping the floors after class.
Today, his father, Jerry DeCou III, remains chairman of the board. Jay DeCou and his two siblings help run the company.
At its height in the late 1990s, the company employed nearly 50 workers, Jay DeCou said.
But the business has suffered during the recession — most notably during the real estate crash.
“A lot of that is contractors who say they haven’t had their phones ring in months,” he added.
About 80 of those builders were lost to bankruptcy in recent years, he said. He wasn’t sure what percentage of the company’s customer base belonged to contractors.
The market also just doesn’t carry the demand it once did, he added, and competition with national retailers and online suppliers has been tough.
“People buy little things online, but I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lumber sales to the Internet,” Jay DeCou said, noting that online outlets can offer cheaper prices because there is no sales tax.
The business, on four acres at 8965 El Camino Real, has supplied materials to local organizations and individuals, including Eagle Scouts and Colony Days. Jay DeCou also helped organize the construction of Paloma Park on the city’s southside.
The company shipped building materials to Atascadero State Hospital when the facility was shaping up in the 1950s and aided in the construction of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
Paso Robles customers once contributed to about half of DeCous’ sales in the 1970s and 1980s, “but now we hardly ever see a Paso customer,” he said.
The business plans to start its liquidation sale in early July for about four weeks to sell off the inventory. An auction will likely follow for sales of equipment and fixtures.