J. Bruce Barnes Lumber Company will go on the auction block June 27 after Union First Market Bank decided to foreclose on the wholesale hardwood supplier, which for decades has been one of Crozet’s most important businesses.
“I owe money and I can’t pay them. I cannot fault them for what they are doing or be mad at them,” said owner Carroll Conley. “I kept people on too long and kept wages up too long. Those were bad decisions.”
Conley said he made his last loan repayment to the bank in February. That payment was not properly posted at first. “I raised cain with them about that. They were holding the money. But they have been a pretty good bank.”
Conley said his lawyer had recommended that he declare bankruptcy. “But I’m not going that way,” he said. “Why fight it for a year and still owe the money? I’m hurt. I’m very hurt. The economy is terrible. It’s happening all over the country.”
The downtown lumberyard employed 52 workers as recently as 2009 and its kilns worked around the clock. It mainly supplied high quality Appalachian hardwoods for flooring and cabinets. The collapse of new housing construction dried up demand.
Conley said he got a letter from the bank May 31. He thought he had a buyer for the 19-acre parcel, currently zoned heavy industrial but recommended for the same zoning as the downtown commercial area, but that buyer called few days before and withdrew. Conley said he had thought he had at least through June to find another buyer. He said he had given it to four different realtors to sell since 2010, but none had found a purchaser.
“When I leave Crozet, I’m leaving respecting people,” Conley said. “I don’t plan to have hard feelings.”
Tools and equipment will go on auction at 10 a.m. on the 27th and the real estate will go under the gavel at noon. The sale will be conducted at the lumberyard. The county assessment sets the lumber yard’s real estate value at roughly $3.2 million.
“I was hoping to be part of the new plan for this property,” Conley said. “It’s a super plan. But it’s not going to happen.”
A development scheme presented to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors by Katurah Roell of Piedmont Development Group imagines a mix of commercial buildings with apartments or offices on upper floors and with light industrial uses in some buildings near the railroad tracks. A central pedestrian space between new buildings near The Square is conceived of as similar to Charlottesville’s downtown mall. Parking lots would border the railroad. Library Avenue would extend east to Parkside Village and ultimately connect with Park Ridge Road.
“I hope whoever buys this place will respect the community and think about the neighbors. We always kept good setbacks from them.
“I don’t have any plans for after the sale. I’ll work around the house. I’ll support the community one way or another.”
Conley will be the grand marshal of the Crozet Independence Day parade to be held June 30. Organizers wanted to honor his many years of quiet philanthropy in the community and his wise council in civic affairs. For years Conley allowed employees who were CVFD volunteers to walk off their jobs at a moment’s notice to answer fire alarms.
“I’ve never treasured money,” Conley said. “I’ve always tried to be free-hearted and help people.”