You might think Charlie Schroeder is stuck in a time warp.
There’s plenty of evidence to support that view.
The phone number on a dust-covered, home-design book at the Schroeder-Younker Lumber Company reads Ox-3-0525.
Dust and sawdust cover door locks and window clasps displayed in packages yellowed by age. Cans of stain from the 1950s are stuck to the shelves. Some are leaking.
Above the check out counter are these three signs: No credit cards, Not accepted; No credit cards accepted and No credit cards.
Can’t get any clearer than that.
This lumber company located on Brown Road in Oregon is not Menards. There are no poly-urethane sealed and polished concrete floors. There is no jubilant voice over the speaker system urging you to “Save big money…”
But, despite outward appearances, Charlie has found a niche in the shadows of big box retailers like Menards and Home Depot. Consider that when he first opened his doors in 1954 he says there were 42 lumber yards in the Toledo area. Today there are three.
Charlie’s 93. He still works six days a week 8 to 5. Although, he concedes, he takes three hours off mid day for an hour nap and lunch. He’s been running this business for 58 years and he’ll be here tomorrow, God willing.
He has no retirement plans. Well, he did have one. “I put a sharpening shop together to have something to do when I retired but I’m 93 and I’m still not retired,” he says with a laugh.
The other half of Schroeder-Younker, Ken Younker, is 62. He walked into Charlie’s yard in 1966 looking for a piece of molding for a corner cabinet he was building in shop class at Clay High School. The cabinet was for his mother. Ken still has it and he still has the job he started that year at age 16, 46 years ago. His first duty was to take a shovel and wheelbarrow and move a pile of stone. Today, he is a master craftsman and co-owner. He too works six days a week, but there’s no nap time. That’s 54 hours.
So, what is it about the work that engenders such dedication?
Charlie answers for Ken, “He picks up a challenge every day.” Charlie knows because he’s faced those challenges too. He recalls a recent one in which a female soldier on her way to Iraq dropped off the pieces of the front porch railing from her Victorian home in Toledo’s Old West End. “She threw them in a pile and said fix them,” Charlie said.
That’s the niche Charlie and Ken have found—supplying wood, millwork and craftsmanship for restorations and repairs.
They build custom windows, doors, sashes, molding, steps, drawers for kitchen cabinets, etc. If you love old and would rather fix it than buy new, you go to Schroeder-Younker. That brings us back to those dusty shelves. “We never throw anything away,” Charlie says. “We do a lot of restoration and we need that stuff.”
Schroeder-Younker also stocks the wood big box retailers usual don’t because they specialize in volume. Here you can get the oak flooring common in many historic homes built in the 1920s, clear grain wood, seven/eights shiplap white pine siding that doesn’t cup, mahogany for boat repairs, well, you get the idea.
The two also do pattern work, specializing in dog houses and mailboxes. More than 6,000 dog houses to date, Charlie estimates. They also do custom commercial jobs. A few years ago, they completed what they say is their most favorite job. They made 100 oak boxes and spools for Jobst Industries, the former East Toledo firm that manufactured support stockings.
Charlie took a few moments last week to look back on the business he and Ken have built. After graduating from Oak Harbor High School and serving in the Navy during World War II, Charlie became a contractor. He worked locally here for Gordon Lumber and some down in Florida before getting the itch to start a lumber yard.
Charlie wanted to build on Navarre, but only had $6,000 to invest, so he built on an 18-acre site on Brown Road. Fifty-eight years later, he’s still in love with what he does, but he’s also trapped, so retirement is not on Charlie’s horizon.
“Once you’re in, you can’t get out,” he says. A new owner would have to service the debt to buy the business and invest in renovating the aging structures that house thousands of board feet of lumber as well as the shop. But, Charlie has no regrets.
“I like the challenge. Best thing I ever got into. And, I like the people who come in here. They’re all very nice people.”
One of those customers is Carol McMahon-Williamson of Oregon. She has visited numerous times over the years including a recent trip to get a glass pane fixed on an antique secretary’s desk.
She says about the place, “It’s a step back into time. Nothing’s changed since we walked into the place 40 years ago. I’ve really been impressed with the quality of work they do and the personal service.”
It’s solving problems for home owners like Carol who want to preserve the past in their homes that keep both men working long hours. The end game is uncertain for Schroeder-Younker. Ken loves the shop work, but doesn’t care to run the business end. Besides his wife has lymphoma and he wants more time at home.
Charlie has been the businessman. The price of lumber can fluctuate widely. Charlie needs to know at what price to buy the specialized wood they sell. He also needs to know how to price the service he provides so that customers choose restoration over remodeling.
If you want to get a hold of Charlie or Ken you can still call Ox-3-0525. However, you need to add the 419 prefix. That’s one of the few changes you’ll find at Schroeder-Younker.