by Joshua Jerome
The Granite City has been making investments attracting young entrepreneurs who have opened up new business on Main Street over the last several years, but it hasn’t been restricted to just Main Street. Recently, The Tree House Hardwoods & Millshop expanded out of their South Burlington location into a 10,000 square foot facility in downtown Barre. Owner, Lucas Jenson, sat down with me recently to talk about his move to Barre and the role his business plays in the advancement of Vermont’s working landscape.
Jenson’s story of opening his own business is a familiar one. He moved to Vermont from Boston to take a marketing position at Ben & Jerry’s. While developing marketing campaigns for the ice cream maker, Jenson spent his free time renovating his house and some additional properties. After nine years, Jenson was ready for a change and made the jump to one of Vermont’s other socially responsible businesses, Seventh Generation. However, after three months it was clear to Jenson that he no longer had the desire to sit behind a computer all day long. He had developed his construction skills and working with wood gave him satisfaction, so he decided to start up a construction company.
The construction company focused on renovations, cabinetry and decks and was able to use local wood species in his work, which he felt was important for Jenson in terms of environmental sustainability and contributing to the local economy. The shock to Vermont’s economy after the Great Recession was felt by many, but destruction forces presented opportunities and Jenson was primed to take advantage of them. He opened up The Tree House Hardwoods & Millshop in December of 2014 with the goal of becoming the largest retailer of hardwood lumber in northern Vermont.
His move to Barre presented a great opportunity to access larger markets in the Mad River Valley, Central Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom and the space came equipped with room to grow. Lucas sources as much local hardwood as possible and currently offers kiln dried hardwood lumber and live edge slabs in multiple species, including maple, birch, ash, oak, walnut and cherry. In addition, he sells cabinet grade plywood and other related products that professional woodworkers, contractors and woodworking hobbyist will be pleased to have access to in a convenient location that’s easy to shop. Utilizing all of the milling equipment to create butcher block countertops, table tops, custom flooring and molding are all a large part of the business model. As Jenson said “you never know what you’re going to find here.”
Of course, not everything is from Vermont, but Jenson takes great strides to work with property owners like Shelburne Farms in their forest management so that the wood that comes off from the farm is used in furniture and cabinetry that local residents can purchase. Just last week the Working Lands Enterprise Board announced a grant award to Jenson’s young company to help them purchase a large truck so more local trees can be brought to market, which means more opportunity for woodworkers to source local materials and means more local jobs. With the expansion into Barre, Jenson is currently looking for an experienced retail sales person familiar with wood species and characteristics for their Barre location. He is also looking for an experienced woodworker to operate machinery in the Millshop.
When not working with a slab of hardwood at one of his facilities you can find Jenson volunteering on his community’s reparative justice board and working on projects for Rebuilding Together of greater Burlington. The father of two high schoolers said that he is pleased to be in downtown Barre and that the investments the city has made, along with the private investment, was ultimately the deciding factor to open up his second location in just a year and a half. As I left, Jenson stated “everybody is so friendly here. You must have the friendliest drivers in Vermont.” This author agrees.
Joshua Jerome is executive director of The Barre Partnership.