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@Work: Paradise Lumber

Jan. 6, 2005 – Availability of lumber, hardware and many other construction needs will take a quantum leap forward when Paradise Lumber on St. John's Centerline Road completes its new 7,000-square-foot building.
"I'm shooting for March," yard manager Eric Humbaugh said.
Paradise Lumber is currently squeezed into a collection of trailers and a small store adjacent to the new building. Owner Brian Rourke said the small store will come down and the trailers will go. The existing lumber racks will expand and be reorganized to improve efficiency.
The new building will allow Paradise Lumber to add more items to its inventory. Areas like plumbing, electrical, paint, roofing, doors, cabinets, fixtures and pool supplies will vastly expand. The new store will include a gardening section.
"It will be a lot more user friendly," Humbaugh said.
Humbaugh said Paradise Lumber is growing to meet the needs of St. John's booming construction industry.
"People are becoming more accustomed to stateside conveniences, " he said.
He said that too often he's had to send people to St. Thomas stores because Paradise Lumber ran short or didn't have room to carry an item.
While the new store will improve selection for St. John contractors and residents, Humbaugh and the staff will still be faced with many challenges. He said that getting items from stateside suppliers poses frequent problems.
"You've got to stay on top of them," he said.
Rourke said that Paradise Lumber didn't receive shipments for nearly a month following September 2004's spate of hurricanes because they disrupted shipping lanes and closed suppliers.
Now, places hard hit by the hurricanes – the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and Grenada – get priority.
"Our loads get bumped," Rourke said.
Rourke said the store's prices are usually less than customers would pay if they bought the item in Florida or St. Thomas. And they'd have to pay shipping charges if they buy elsewhere.
However, he fears that prices will have to go up if the V.I. Port Authority follows through on its plan to limit the size of shipping containers headed to St. John to 20 feet rather than the 40-foot ones usually used. This will up shipping costs, and Paradise Lumber, like other St. John merchants, will have to pass that cost on to its customers.
Rourke bought the inventory of the former Unicorn Lumber in 1998, opening Paradise Lumber at its current location the same year. The store now employs a dozen people, including a person at the front gate to check that the sales slip matches what's in the vehicle.
Humbaugh said theft both from employees and customers necessitated that move.
"People had been taking advantage of our honor system. This system now keeps everybody honest," he said.
When the new building is done, Humbaugh said he expects to be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
The current hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

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