By JILL DIAMOND | La Mesa Courier
Since 1907, La Mesa Lumber has been servicing customers for all their lumber needs and it doesn’t plan on changing course any time soon.
According to general manager Wes Troy, the business is owned by his mother’s side of the family, though his father did work there for a couple of years when he met his mother in the late ’60s.
“My mentors here have been my uncle Chris Gauger, operation manager, and cousin Kim Wood sales manager, they have both been here for over 35 years and know the place inside and out,” he said.
As a young boy, Troy grew up in Sacramento and was only around the business on holidays when visiting San Diego. He fit right in thanks to more than 10 years in hospitality management with Hyatt Hotels and five years in outside sales.
“It’s dovetailed nicely bringing those skills into the lumber business,” he said. “I did work in the yard for a summer in high school in 1993 to earn money for a car. Working a summer sweeping up a lumberyard was a learning experience for a 17-year-old.”
Troy said his great-grandfather, Fletcher Olson, bought into the business when he moved the family from Golden Valley, Minnesota, where he had a lumber business.
“He was looking for a milder climate. I am thankful he chose San Diego,” Troy said.
His mother, Carol Baxter, entered the business in 1994 after his grandfather, Ray Olson, passed away. She soon became general manager, and successfully managed the business for over 25 years.
“Navigating throuh the emergence of big box store competition and a major recession, she has been a great role model as well,” he said. “Navigating a small business over the last few decades in California is no simple task.”
Troy said he thinks his family chose La Mesa to set up shop because “the winters in Minnesota were rough and they wanted somewhere with a milder climate. The story is that there was also a lumberyard in La Jolla that he considered at the same time as La Mesa. Though a view of the ocean would be nice, I think this place worked out for the best.”
Above the rest
Of course, La Mesa Lumber has become a true mainstay in the community and its history is what makes it unique and sets it apart from the competition.
“We have a ton of history here for sure, and we have that family-owned atmosphere that can be hard to find these days. Being a small family-owned business also makes us flexible, if we want to change something or carry a product because a customer asked, we can, there is no big corporation telling us what to do,” Troy said.
Currently, there are 31 employees and they are looking to hire another to be “ready for another busy summer.”
La Mesa Lumber is about 3.5 acres and most of its current sheds have been at the location since the late ‘40s and the current office since the mid-’60s, according to Troy.
“The business has been in a couple locations locally,” he added. “The corner of Allison and Date avenues on the west side of the tracks where lumber used to be delivered by rail car. An old office was also on the corner of Allison and Spring where the Chase Bank is now.”
Change is good
Over the years, the city has obviously changed but that’s a good thing, Troy said.
“Though I have lived in San Diego off and on for over 10 years, La Mesa has only been my home for the last two. But the changes are good! The La Mesa Village is having a moment and is quickly becoming a hot spot for this part of the county. I am happy to call it my home,” he said.
As for who La Mesa Lumber services, Troy said, “everyone we can!”
“But we are primarily a framing lumberyard and about 70% of our customers are professional contractors building single-family homes and remodels. But we carry siding, fascia, decking, windows, doors, moulding, fencing, concrete coatings, hardware, tools, and we have a full-service mill for custom jobs,” Troy said.
And if you’re wondering if the lumber business is enjoyable, Troy quickly acknowledges, “it’s a blast.”
“Our employees are the best around. Our average tenure is over 15-plus years and we just had one employee celebrate 40 years this summer. We pride ourselves in taking good care of our employees who turn and take good care of our customers,” he said.
As for the future of La Mesa Lumber, don’t expect it to leave the city any time soon.
“We are very thankful to have been able to be a part of this community for so long and excited for the next 100 years. We are currently on our fourth generation of family working here — 12 of our current 31 employees are family,” he said.
Speaking of keeping it in the family Troy added, “I feel that each generation has passed on the ideals that have kept us going for so long. Work hard every day, offer a good product at a fair price and treat everyone with respect. The business is truly an extension of our family and those ideals, plus we have fun doing it, so why would we want to stop doing that?”
— Jill Diamond is a freelance writer in Southern California who gravitates toward stories about neighborhood histories.