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Store owners say Home Depot isn’t slowing business

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Cars continue to fill the parking lot at Auburn’s Home Depot, open for about six weeks just off Grass Valley Highway. “It’s doing really well,” operations manager Adam Lauder said this week. At the same time, the area’s other hardware, building and garden stores say so far they’re not experiencing the significant loss of business from the retail giant that many feared. At Vista Builders Supply on Auburn Ravine Road, owners Dirk and Donah Fry say any slowing they’ve seen is just as likely to be the result of the weak economy. “We have a lot of customers who have been doing business with us for many years and they’re still here,” Donah Fry said this week. “They’re with us.” Vista Builders opened 15 years ago to service contractors, who previously had to go “down the hill” go get their materials, Fry said. Since then, the store has expanded for homeowners as well. It carries drywall supplies, cements, reinforcing metals, block, stone, plastering supplies, roofing, decking and other home-construction products. The Frys have noticed that while there’s a lull in new construction, homeowners haven’t stopped renovating, maintaining and upgrading their residences. “We have the knowledge,” Fry said. “We can help people coming in looking for information in unique situations.” She cited, for example, a customer seeking advice on how to change siding on their home to stucco. The building supply store has six employees. “We haven’t had to do layoffs,” Fry said. “We have had attrition and not rehired.” At Eisley Nursery on Nevada Street, Earlene Eisley said the garden center is seeing its usual spring rush. “This is our busy time,” she said. Arrival of the planting season brings in lots of customers for summer vegetable starts and summer color. In addition, the nursery is putting in a design center. “We’re hoping to have it finished in time for Mother’s Day,” Eisley said. The center will feature a permanent seminar area, outdoor kitchen, fireplace and water feature. “We’ve had (the products) all along, but we’re just implementing them so people can get an idea of what to put in their yard,” she said. Companies that have supplied the products will have their business cards available so customers will have a means to incorporate the ideas,” Eisley said. In North Auburn, 84 Lumber is located only a few miles east of Home Depot on Grass Valley Highway. The chain welcomes the competition, said 84 Lumber media spokesman Jeff Nobers, vice president of marketing and public relations. “It is a situation where it avails the consumer with options,” Nobers said from 84 Lumber’s corporate headquarters in Pennsylvania. “We have stores across the United States just as Home Depot and Lowe’s. We operate literally side by side in some areas. We think the reality is, when they come into the market, it actually stimulates further interest for us. People tend to comparison shop more. Our employees by and large are very long term. They’re very well schooled in the products and well schooled in helping with projects. So I think a level of expertise from a service standpoint separates us from the others both from a professional side — from builders as well as home remodelers and commercial contractors — and the consumer side.” The Neighborhood Ace Hardware on Grass Valley Highway also cites strong customer service as a big draw. “We’re coming up on 14 years (in business), so we have a well-established customer base,” owner Mike Ryan said. “We just appreciate our regular loyal customers and want to keep serving them as well as we can for another 14 years.” Auburn resident Dale Smith, who founded Friends of Placer County Communities that fought for nearly 10 years to keep Home Depot out, said he hasn’t had much time to try to gauge the impact. “I’ve been confined to my office, so I haven’t been by there,” he said. But Smith remains concerned about the future for local businesses trying to compete. “I’ve seen a lot of examples of (businesses closing after Home Depot moves in),” he said. The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.