Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Legacy of Lumber

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Rapid Growth Media
March 14, 2013

KC Weaver at Tontin Lumber (Photo by Adam Bird,

Tontin Lumber has been in business for over 30 years, but it was a serendipitous conversation with a truck driver and a commitment to local sustainability that has allowed the family-owned business to survive the economic downtown and thrive today.

"Funny thing happened on the way to retirement…," Daryl Weaver begins, but then he gets distracted.

A client just walked into Tontin Lumber, Inc. (565 Godfrey SW in Grand Rapids). No, an old friend. Both, actually. By now, after 30 years of business, most of Tontin Lumber, Inc.'s, clients are old friends. Weaver rises from his desk and shoulders up to his client, his friend, and the two head back into the recesses of the building, where the woodsy scent of sawdust powders the air and the machines send up a rhythmic roar.

KC Weaver takes over. That's KC, his first name, he explains, which stands for nothing but KC. "When I sign up for online sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, they tell me that's not a real name," he chuckles. KC is Daryl's eldest son, part time at Tontin Lumber, part time at Grand Rapids Community College where he teaches American history. When he sits down at his desk, made of Tontin lumber, he is living history.

"I've been running around this place since I was a kid," the younger Weaver says. "Playing with adding machines, telling people they're fired." Another chortle.

Pride is evident, alongside the penchant in father and son to do things in an original way. Do it in a unique way or die, that's a lesson they learned here at the beginning, but relearned in 2008, when the economy nationwide took a serious dive.

"2008 hit us extremely hard," Weaver says. The 50,000 square foot building nearly went silent. Originally a space for eight businesses, the elder Weaver had rented a small corner, then expanded, then kept expanding, finally buying the entire building. Producing lumber was a good business -- until it wasn't.

"We had a trucker drive in and ask if he could park his rig here," Weaver says. He points at the immense logs still present in the parking lot, stacked high. They are called butt logs, the first log cut above the stump of a tree, darker and denser that the rest of the tree. "The trucker asked about all of these butt logs, what we do with them."

Weaver points to a section of a log where the bark has chipped away. Beneath the bark, the wood is marked with a crazy, wiggling pattern. "That's from the ash borer. It's an insect that kills the tree, but leaves good lumber beneath."

The trucker asked if he could take the logs away, musing that someone might have use for them. An idea was born. As a sideline to keep the business alive, Tontin Lumber collected downed trees that the City of Grand Rapids had been grinding up into sawdust after the trees died from ash borer disease.

"We have always catered to the local market, instilling the mantra of keeping money within Michigan at every turn," says Weaver. "With the economic downturn, we needed new solutions to old problems. One of the ideas entailed seeking out ...


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