Turner Lumber Company on South Orange Avenue

by Len Sager


I never lived in Newark. I was a suburban kid who grew up in West Orange in the 1960’s and 1970’s. However I spent much of my time in Newark during those years.

My father owned the Turner Lumber Company which was located on South Orange Avenue at 21st street, right next to the Pabst Brewery. And I spent much of my teenage years and college years working in my father’s lumber yard. Turner Lumber was a business from bygone era. By the 1970’s, this once very nice area, had clearly seen better days. Turner Lumber and places like it have since been put out of business by the Home Depot’s of the world. But back in the day, things were different.

The early morning air was always filled with the smell of the hops, from the beer that was brewing at Pabst. And the neighborhood was always bustling, as the brewery operated 24/7. We always got our coffee from Costa’s coffee shop, or Pete’s Deli which was across the street on South Orange Avenue. Lunches came from these places too.

Every morning, the cast of “regular” carpenters and contractors used to come in around 7:30AM and place their orders for the day. We all knew each other and joked with each other year after year. Often, they would ask for their orders to be delivered within a few hours, and they got their service. Because that’s how the world operated back in those days.

By 9AM, the regular contractors had left for the day, and the remainder of the day was spent serving “walk in” customers. Some spent a lot of money. And others merely wanted a pound of nails.

I got to know the business like the back of my hand. And if my father had his way, I probably would have taken over that business back in 1979. That’s when 2 of his “irreplaceable” employees decided to retire. These were employees who had been with him for many, many years. But I could see the handwriting on the wall. The neighborhood was rapidly declining, and contractors were moving away from Newark, where most new construction was taking place.

Pabst was interested in doing an expansion to their facility in 1979, and offered my father enough money to sell his property to them. A good thing because otherwise the property would probably have had to be abandoned. Turner Lumber closed in 1979, after a 40 run (Mr. Turner, the original owner, ran the business for the first 10 years of its existence until my father purchased it in 1948). Shortly after Pabst bought my father’s property, they decided to shut down the entire operation. And there my father’s building sat idle and decaying for much of the next 30 years.

A few years ago, a decision was made to redevelop that area. The brewery was torn down over several years. The famous Pabst bottle (formerly a Hoffman Soda Bottle) was dismantled and saved. Every six months or so, I would drive by my father’s old Lumber Yard to see if the building was still standing. And as of October 2007, it was still there. Dilapidated, decaying, but still standing. On March 2, 2008, I decided to take a ride down South Orange Avenue one more time. Most of the brewery was gone. And this time, the remains of Turner Lumber Company were gone---replaced by a vacant lot.

Although time marches on, and there is clearly a brighter future for that tract of land, it was sad to see the old business gone from the face of this earth. A piece of my youth was gone. The neighborhood will rise again and see better times. But for a moment, I actually had a bit of a lump in my throat.


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