An iconic, family-owned Oxford business that literally helped build the community over the past century is celebrating the rarest of milestones this week.
Elliott Lumber Inc., founded just off the Oxford Square in the early 1900s, is 100 years old and still owned by the same local family. Run now by a fourth-generation member, with Baxter “Bo” Elliott III in charge, Elliott Lumber has defied the odds, since only about 3 percent of family owned businesses make it so far into the family tree.
“I wouldn’t say that I run the company,” Bo Elliott said, smiling, a day after Elliott Lumber welcomed several hundred from the community to its 100th anniversary celebration. “The company runs me.”
Indeed, when we tried to connect earlier in the week Elliott was too busy to talk, worried on a short-handed day about keeping up with orders to fulfill.
“It’s about customer service,” Elliott said, when asked how a small business lasts 100 years under the same family ownership. “It’s about getting the orders out the door fast when people need them.”
Now located at 18 County Road 166 (on Old Highway 7 North), Elliott Lumber got its start in 1917 when W.W. Elliott purchased the lumber and building material business in Oxford from the estate of a gentleman named Marion Knight.
It was located originally on the corner of South 9th Street and Van Buren Avenue at the time, but was moved to the southeast corner of the Square, before settling in across from First Presbyterian Church in 1927, where it remained for more than six decades – and was a central element of downtown Oxford.
Elliott Lumber owned land on Old Highway 7 North for a warehouse and as the Oxford Square got more crowded, the lumber and building material business was moved there in 1993. A showroom for interior appliances and furnishings was built at the site in 1998, and a larger warehouse was added in 2006.
But through it all, the business has been owned by members of the Elliott family, passing leadership from W.W. Elliott (1917-1937) to Baxter Elliott Sr. (1928-1985), to Baxter “Bee” Elliott (1955-2007) and now Bo Elliott, who took over when his father, Bee, who passed away in 2007. Mrs. Fannie Elliott (wife of the late Bee Elliott) remains the company shareholder, but she leaves operations to Bo — though she enjoys visits to the company and keeping up-to-date.
Pulled into the business
Not all family members sought a career at Elliott Lumber. Sometimes, over the years, they have been pulled into the business for the simple need of keeping it going. Baxter Elliott Sr. had other career plans, for instance, but got the business responsibility when his father died and his brothers were not available.
And Bo Elliott was called back to help run the family business in 1996 when his father had a sudden quadruple-bypass heart surgery. Bo was an officer in the Air Force, but requested and received a transfer to the National Guard, and came home to Oxford.
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Bo Elliott said. “Some years were hard. Like the (2008) recession. But we didn’t know when to give up, so here we are. It’s hard to imagine 100 years because day-in, day-out you are just trying to serve customers.”
Business is busy
Activity is brisk these days with building in a fast-pace mode in the Oxford area and Elliott Lumber has now expanded to offer more than lumber and other building materials. They have a fully-stocked showroom that can fill out any home, with brands including Sub-Zero, Viking, Wolf, Marvin windows.
“When I was a kid and would visit the store all we had to sell were aluminum windows,” Bo Elliott said. “And those were a big step up from wood. Now, having everything a high-end home would need allows us to be more full service.”
The family gets the benefit of help from members of its fifth generation, too, considering Bo’s son and his sister Maggie’s son, both college students, work at Elliott Lumber in the summer time, keeping the family tradition alive.
“We have weathered the storm in the hard times, and worked hard to serve the customer in better times,” Bo Elliott said.