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Shoemaker Lumbers On As Co-owner Al Neill Retires After 54 Years

first_imgAl Neill slips the key into the front door of Shoemaker Lumber for the last time. By Tim KellyIt was a day like any other, and yet a day like none other.Al Neill recently slipped the key into the door at Shoemaker Lumber for the last time. Neill, 87, was retiring from the business he bought into almost 54 years ago. Though Shoemaker lumber will continue on as one of Ocean City’s oldest and most respected businesses, it won’t ever be quite the same.“My body was telling me it was time to get out of here,” Al told OCNJ Daily during his last day on the job. “This is a young person’s business.”As a result, Neill will be seen a lot more often walking on the boardwalk and riding his bike around town, and won’t be seen much at the iconic lumber yard and hardware store occupying 2.2 acres at 12th and West Ave. since 1902.“Today is like any other day,” said Al, with respect to his duties. “It’s just that it is the last one.”The last time Al Neill was not working at Shoemaker Lumber, it was the summer of 1964. Lyndon Johnson was president, Ford Motor Company was touting its sporty new Mustang, and the Philadelphia Phillies were seemingly on their way to the National League pennant until they blew a 6 ½ game lead with 10 to play.Al Neill shows ad for the auction that never happened in September 1964. Al and his partners made a bid the Shoemaker family accepted and the need for the auction was averted.The world has changed a lot since then, and Al has seen many changes on the island and in the lumber business as well. The one constant, he said, is good old fashioned customer service.“He was always working,” son Dan Neill said of his dad. “I can vividly remember him at the dinner table with all the paperwork spread out while he figured out the bills. This was in the days before we went to computers. He used an adding machine the size of a brick.  There was a huge stack of papers and he would add up all the bills right at the dinner table.“Then, after dinner he would go back into the office and work a couple more hours,” said Dan, himself a Shoemaker owner who worked at the yard for 40 years.It’s been that way for Al Neill for more than five decades. In the last few years Al slowed down a bit and went to part time status. But he was still involved in buying lumber and handling accounts payable and receivable, right up until his retirement.Ever humble, Al downplays the work ethic. “I went from seven days a week to six days a week,” he said, referring to his previous job as a manager at the old Majane News Agency at 12th and Ocean Ave.Shoemaker Lumber, one of the oldest businesses in Ocean City, as it appeared in the 1920s.When the Shoemaker family decided to sell the business, there were initially no serious offers. The yard was slated to be sold at auction. That is when Neill and partners Fred and Donald Tarves put in an offer that was accepted, averting the auction altogether.  And the rest, as the saying goes, is Ocean City history.Today Shoemaker Lumber is a full service yard and hardware store. It has showrooms for kitchens and baths. In addition to lumber, it sells windows, doors, building supplies, hardware and much more.  It caters to contractors and handymen (and women) but also to individuals.Much of their business comes from Ocean City, and they also do a lot from Sea Isle City and the mainland.Shoemaker supplied the wood to builder Fred Shivone for the last three phases of the Ocean City Boardwalk reconstruction. They also supply wood, hardware and other building materials for construction companies in town and all over South Jersey.Al Neill has seen it all. Not bad for a guy who had zero experience in the lumber business before buying in.“I had to learn it,” Al said. “I had to jump right in and begin selling wood and learning by trial and error.”He credited his partners for helping him to learn the ropes. “Fred and Don were builders and they knew what they were doing and helped me.”Al remembers the Shoemaker family used to deliver wood and coal in the early days of the business in horse-drawn wagons. Today Shoemaker will deliver it to a jobsite with a boom truck.“The horse stables were still here” when Al and his partners took over the business, he said.Dan Neil (third from left) gathers with employees recently. From left are Ian Wallace, Harry Lord, Neil, Tim Yarger and Meg Moynihan.The company started out with three owners doing all the work, and today they boast a staff of 20. In 1964 there were four other lumber yards in Ocean City, Al said and today they are the last one on the island.Despite the value of the land occupied by the yard, there are no plans for Shoemaker Lumber to be anything other than Shoemaker Lumber, he said.“There will probably come a day when this won’t be a lumber yard,” he remarked, but that day was not in the foreseeable future, he said. “We’re going to be here for our employees and customers.”Moving forward, Dan Neill will continue on, as will Fred Tarves’ daughter Janet. Fred’s son, Jim, was involved until he passed away two years ago, and Janet’s husband Dick Young, who stepped down recently, made a strong contribution to the business, Dan said.  Of course, that loyal and talented band of employees will continue to be an asset to the business, he added.Through it all, Al Neill was the only one of the current ownership group that has worked continuously the entire time. So how did the staff honor their longtime friend and colleague?“They had a cake, and everyone got together and gave him a really nice card,” Dan said.“They knew he wouldn’t want a big party or anything like that.”last_img read more

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