The quiet liquidation sale at Youngblood Lumber on NE. Central Avenue that could end as early as this week marks the end of a legacy enterprise in Minneapolis, one that is rooted in the Mississippi River and railroad lumber trade that dates to the 19th century.
Youngblood Lumber, its business declining and employment waning by a third to 22 over the last decade, has reached an agreement to sell its one-square-block property at 1335 Central to a yet-unspecified developer.
It’s another marker in the transformation of Northeast’s main commercial corridor, Central Avenue, over a generation from a blue-collar industrial district tied to river, rail and mill enterprises to one increasingly distinguished by multifamily housing, restaurants, art galleries, studios and offices planted in former factories.
“Northeast has changed a ton since I first started out in a studio on Stinson and Broadway [avenues] in the late 1990s,” said Scott McGlasson, owner of Woodsport, which makes high-end furniture in part from specialty hardwoods he hand-picked at Youngblood. “I’ve been gentrified out of studios twice since then and am now in the Midway area of St. Paul.
“Back then Northeast was mostly working folks and artists. Nowadays there are new condos, taprooms and yoga studios. I’ve been worried about Youngblood for a while and saw this coming … I just didn’t think it would come this fast.”
Youngblood owner Tom Youngblood declined to comment. His family has owned the yard for more than 90 years. Earlier operations at the site date to the late 1800s.
“There’s been a slowdown in business,” said President Randy Rudesill, in a brief telephone interview. “And there were other factors.”
Youngblood’s operations, including a parking lot, take up less than half the block on which it sits. The buildings and land are valued by Hennepin County for tax purposes at barely $575,000, making it a prime opportunity for what observers speculate could be a residential-commercial complex in a strong development market.
Youngblood was one of the last of what once may have been a dozen or more Northeast lumberyards with roots in the sawmills that grew from the Mississippi River log trade and railroads that delivered raw timber to mills on the river’s east bank.
Most have closed or moved to facilitate suburban development made possible by highways since the 1950s.
For example, Scherer Lumber left its flagship Mississippi riverbank operation in northeast Minneapolis several years ago but still operates several suburban locations. Scherer also was under pressure from the Minneapolis Park Board, which wanted its land to link parkland from downtown to the Broadway Avenue bridge.
Last fall, ending a yearslong legal fight, the Park Board struck a deal with Graco, which employs hundreds at its flagship plant and headquarters just north of the former Scherer operation, to work cooperatively to develop that park along with expansion room for Graco offices. The company years ago granted easements for river walkers and bicyclists on the river side of its campus.
Some stalwarts remain in the area. Shaw-Stewart Lumber, a diversified building materials operation located on 18 acres in an industrial area on NE. Johnson Street, is the offspring of several Twin Cities lumber outfits that date to 1886.
Nearby, another big lumber retailer has thrived since rebuilding after a fire in 1993.
Tom Siwek, operator of third-generation, family-owned Siwek Lumber and Millwork, runs a modern, suburban-style operation that sells to consumers and small contractors.
“We would send customers to Youngblood and they would send some to us,” said Siwek. “They are a hardwood specialty yard. They just sold to cabinet shops and high-end product to craftsmen. They never sold molding, doors and windows and the things with which you build a house. They also were one of the first lumberyards.”
Siwek’s grandfather Joseph Siwek started the business inauspiciously in 1933, after losing his job with a railroad during the Great Depression. Joseph Siwek resorted to dismantling old box cars for the wood and collecting coal to sell to homeowners for heating. After World War II, he opened a building materials operation, albeit smaller than his grandson’s operation.
“We’re bursting,” Tom Siwek said. “I’ve got 2 acres and I could double in size. On Central Avenue, Youngblood is a specialty wood place that could have been in a quarter of that [block-square] space. It’s an underdeveloped use of that property. The developers like that.”
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.