Shoemaker Lumber, a staple in Ocean City for more than a century, is located at 12th and West in Ocean City.

Dale Gerhard

OCEAN CITY — Shoemaker Lumber has adapted to sweeping changes in Ocean City and the industry in the past 111 years to survive as the resort’s last lumber yard.

But perhaps its greatest challenge was to reopen three days after Hurricane Sandy, which drenched the West Avenue yard and hardware store with nearly 4 feet of saltwater.

Inventory was floating through the door.

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“The storm hit Tuesday, and we had two terminals out front running on Friday so were able to sell product,” said Janet Young, of Beesleys Point in Upper Township, a partner of the business. “A lot of it was water damaged. People wanted dust masks and trash bags and things so they could start to clean up.”

As contractors and homeowners were cleaning, repairing and rebuilding in Ocean City, Shoemaker Lumber was supplying them while repairing the building. When the hurricane it, it was one of 39 sellers of building materials and supplies in the county, down from 45 a decade before, federal Department of Labor data shows.

Bottoms of walls were ripped out, insulation removed, and noisy dehumidifiers ran for weeks while the business repaired, all the while staying open.

Young said the company’s employees, some of whom experienced damage to their own homes from the epic storm, were critical to reopening in those early days.

“We try very hard to maintain a consistent employee base. Most of our employees are with us for a long time … and you want to keep those people, because sooner or later, something will happen like the Sandy storm and you need everybody. That was certainly one of biggest challenges.”

As Hurricane Sandy approaches its one-year anniversary next month, its effects are still felt at the business, which includes a lumberyard, a hardware store and a kitchen showroom.

“The kitchen department is just about getting put back together,” Young said. “We lost all the base material. That was challenging getting it all ripped out and thrown out. But they’re still not back 100 percent yet with the showroom.”

That Shoemaker Lumber survived the storm — the business was in a flood-prone area of the city already — may be another testament to how it has survived a changing world.

The original business was started by Charles H. Shoemaker in 1902 and was a lumberyard even before then. His family ran the business until 1964, when it was sold to Fred Tarves, Donald Tarves and Albert Neill.

Neill is still a partner in the business, along with Dan Neill, Jim Tarves, and Janet and Dick Young.

Janet Young, whose father is the late Fred Tarves, said the business evolved, adding hardware to its offerings and adjusting to compete with big-box retailers that possessed some pricing advantages due to their size.

If you can’t compete with prices on power tools, “you offer service on power tools, you have power tool accessories … you have to figure out how to work around them,” she said. “The other thing we do is we deliver our products.”

Based in Ocean City, the business also has the edge of being near where many of the building projects are being constructed.

Young said business has been strong since the storm, aided by the same reconstruction that it had to undertake too.

“It’s a fine line. You’re happy to have the business, but you’re also happy to help the community,” she said. “Way back in the day, there were five lumber yards on the island. Now we are it.”

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More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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