After being a staple in the City of Ann Arbor for over eight decades, the Fingerle Lumber Company will close its doors this weekend. The closure will be bittersweet for many. 89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan spoke with one of the owners of the company and customers when he stopped by the store earlier this week.
Pickup trucks are loaded with items bought at Fingerle Lumber in Ann Arbor. Loyal customers, like Patrice Summers from Manchester, wanted to make one last purchase before the business closes for good on March 30th.
"It’s sad because it’s been here for so many years, but they do what they have to do," said Summers.
The family-owned business was established in 1931 with a small, modest office located on South Fifth Avenue. The original structure was razed in 1966 to make way for new construction. A few years later, current company president John Fingerle started working at the shop.
"I was first officially employed when I was 14 years old in 1972. Prior to that, if my dad was here on a weekend or evening, then I’d come down and do some sweeping, pick-up steel boards, something in the yard. Made me feel like I was contributing, even though I probably wasn’t really producing a whole lot. It was just part of growing up in the family business," said Fingerle.
Fingerle says, among his favorite memories of working at the lumber yard for 47 years, are those that include his co-workers and, of course, customers. But there are other memories that stand out just because of how drastic they were.
"We had a big fire in 1977 with the building that the listeners cannot see, but you can see right across the street. Our biggest building burnt to the ground. That was a noteworthy event, you could see the smoke from Whitmore Lake. We also almost closed due to the recession and a problem with the pension fund back in 2008. We solved those problems and bounced back," said Fingerle.
Fingerle says that now is the right time to close their doors because he, his brother, and cousin, who all co-own the business, are ready for retirement.
The University of Michigan acquired 6.5 acres of Fingerle Lumber’s property for $24 million. The property is located adjacent to the university’s sports Coliseum, along South Fifth Avenue, south of East Madison Street. But the change concerns customer Diane Neelands, who stopped by Fingerle to buy one of their t-shirts.
Diane: "So a lot of the stores that we’ve known for a long time are starting to disappear and that’s so sad."
Jorge: "Do you think that’s changing the look of the city?"
Diane: "Yes, definitely and also some of the new laws from city council recently. So hopefully some of those will change back, were we are not going to get too many high-rises."
In a statement sent to WEMU, University of Michigan officials say they still don’t know what the property will be used for. What is known is that, just like with its other properties in Ann Arbor, the University is exempt from paying property taxes. Ann Arbor City Council Member Jeff Hayner represents the first ward where Fingerle Lumber is located. He explains how the tax issue will impact the city.
"The total taxes paid on this property in 2018 were about $140,000, about $35,000 of that went to the city. And so, it’s not only the city that’s going to be harmed, $35,000 isn’t much, but every time property comes off the tax rolls, it’s the city, the schools, the community colleges, the county, the libraries, everybody suffers. And everyone has to pick-up the slack," said Hayner.
To address the overall issue of nonprofits not paying property tax in Ann Arbor, Council Member Hayner says the city will introduce a new idea later this year.
"We’re going to be bringing forward a pilot program for the city which is a payment lieu of taxes were we ask all nonprofits who have non-taxable landholdings, to consider making voluntary payments to the city in lieu of taxes. And we have a formula to calculate the community good that they do and reduce the ask amount. Boston has been doing it for many years. A lot of other cities do it. It’s been pretty successful," added Hayner.
As of now, the other two or so acres that will remain of the Fingerle Lumber property have not been sold. John Fingerle says one parcel will be leased for a restaurant, while the other is still on the market. Fingerle Lumber customer Peter Pleitner says it will be difficult for him to see his favorite lumber yard close.
"We’ve been in the same house since '83 and most of our renovations and modernization came out of here. So it’s kind of sad," said Pleitner.
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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him firstname.lastname@example.org