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McKinnon Lumberyard dates back to early Hollister

San Benito County’s oldest retail business going strong during pandemic.

Walking around the McKinnon Lumberyard at 217 Seventh Street in Hollister, owner John Barrett takes obvious pride in the history of his business. 

He points out the oldest building, a lumber-filled structure dating back to 1910. He mentions that the front building, the entrance to his business, is over 90 years old, and uses boards from an even earlier storefront. 

“They tore down an old building and recycled it,” Barrett said. You can still see a bit of an old advertisement painted on the boards: “McKinnon’s Lumberyard, Windows and Doors.”  

He kicks away some dirt and sawdust from one corner of the building, revealing a date—1929—scribed in concrete.

McKinnon’s is the oldest retail business in San Benito County. It was started by Angus P. Boyd in 1869, one year after the founding of Hollister, and it is still at the original location.

John Barrett, owner of McKinnon Lumber Company. Photo by Robert Eliason.
John Barrett, owner of McKinnon Lumber Company. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Boyd was in the right place at the right time. The incorporation of the city brought a boom in housing and contractors depended on Boyd’s for all their supplies and materials.

The lumber business made Boyd a rich man. He became an officer in the American Legion of Honor, a national fraternal benevolent society. By 1875 he was on the board of directors of the San Benito Railway company. He became the president of the Hollister Savings Bank in 1892. 

His death at 71, in 1896, was reported in newspapers around the state. An obituary described him as a “well known and wealthy lumber merchant” who “possessed heavy holdings in real estate and other valuable property in the county.”

In 1910, Hollister resident Archibald McKinnon bought the company from Boyd’s family. He had been considering getting into that type of business for a while. The San Jose Mercury reported on a visit he took to Vancouver in August 1909 to “look more fully into the lumber business, in which he is interested.”  

Storefront, 1929. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Storefront, constructed in 1929. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Boyd built his home on the northeast corner of the property; his family retained that part of the lot.

“When McKinnon bought it, they split the lot in half,” Barrett said. “It originally took up the whole block, from Seventh Street to South Street, and from East Street to San Benito Street.” He owned the business until 1946, when he turned it over to his nephew, Roy Brown. McKinnon died two years later.

Brown and his partner Zene Pivetti continued running the lumberyard under the McKinnon name before selling it in 1972.

“There was a two-year period after 1970 when it wasn’t clear whether anyone owned the business or not,” Barrett said. “My uncle, Marion Magladry, bought it and I started working there in July of 1973.” Barrett and his family took over the company in 1989, when his uncle retired.

Brian and John Barrett. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Brian and John Barrett. Photo by Robert Eliason.

In the early years, with no other lumberyards in the area until 1920, McKinnon’s supplied most of the building materials contractors used in constructing Hollister’s homes and businesses.  Though they do not supply companies building tract homes, they still are a source for contractors building custom homes and commercial projects.  

The business has seen ups and downs but keeps moving forward.

“It was tough back in the 1980s because the town was a lot smaller at the time and people were not doing much building,” Barrett said. “That turned around for us with the 1989 earthquake, when we were able to supply people working to rebuild the town. It was an unfortunate event, but it helped get us back on our feet.”

Another slow period was from 2006-13. Cutting employees, hours, and inventory helped the business to survive.

The COVID-19 shutdown has been a boon for the company, as Barrett did not have to seek any of the kinds of loans or assistance other businesses were forced to get.

“Some of our best customers right now are homeowners doing improvements,” he said. “They are doing backyard projects like decks and pergolas or patio covers. We have a lot of people making cabinets or projects in their garages. We have been swamped and it is hard to keep up.” 

Oldest building on the lot, 1910. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Oldest building on the lot, constructed in 1910. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The company now has 15 employees to meet the demand. And with that demand, the biggest problem today is supply.

“We are facing a huge shortage in certain types of lumber and hardware,” Barrett said, “and the prices have gone sky-high. The hardest thing to find is redwood fencing and decking. It just does not exist anymore. If they are producing it, it just isn’t filtering down to us. And with the hardware, we are getting orders shorted anywhere from 25%-30%. We can’t get everything we are ordering.”

With over 150 years in the business and clients stretching back to the early ranchers and the founders of the city, McKinnon’s is not going away any time soon.

“The citizens of this city have been very loyal,” Barrett said. “We try to take care of everyone the way we like to be treated and it has always paid off.”

 

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Robert Eliason

I’ve been a freelance photographer since my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. My dad taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.   I have had gallery showings and done commercial work but photojournalism is a wonderful challenge in storytelling.   The editors at BenitoLink have encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  It is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community.