After an extremely difficult 2020, Les Johnson, owner of Douglas County Home Center for more than 40 years, said the “writing was on the wall” and the decision to close his business was made.
Although it was a difficult choice, Johnson, a 1974 Alexandria graduate, said this past summer and into fall – during the height of the coronavirus pandemic – it had become very hard to get materials and keep up an inventory. Products that were hard to get included not only treated lumber, decking materials or shingles, but hot tubs and spas, as well, as he was an authorized HotSpring Spa dealer.
“In October, when ordering a spa, I was told it wouldn’t be available until the first quarter of 2022,” said Johnson. “I was tired of fighting and lost so many projects because I couldn’t get the product. Plus, I was within four months of turning 65. It was time to be done.”
And although the doors are officially closed, Johnson said until most of his product is gone, customers can call for an appointment.
Out of the ashes
Douglas County Home Center, on Highway 29 North near the North McDonalds, first opened its doors in Garfield and was called Douglas County Lumber.
“I would have been celebrating 44 years in business,” said Johnson.
Growing up, Johnson had a passion for working with wood and as he got older, became interested in drafting and his passion leaned more toward architect work.
“Our farm life couldn’t afford to send me to college, so I focused on building and construction work,” said Johnson.
After graduation, he ended up in the state of Washington helping a friend build a house. Afterward, he was drawn back to Minnesota and started work with a contractor. While shingling a roof in January, a friend he was working with mentioned that they should be selling materials instead of installing.
And that’s what got the ball rolling and before long, on some land he secured from his father, Johnson opened up Douglas County Lumber three miles north of Garfield. When he outgrew that location, he moved to a different and bigger location south of Garfield.
On Nov. 29, 1986, Johnson lost everything.
“A disgruntled employee burned it all down,” he said.
After the fire, a guy he knew handed him a book with a note that read, “Great things and greater people come out and up from the ashes.”
He was inspired by that and has never forgotten it.
And in December 1986, he reopened at his current location on Highway 29 North.
Shortly after reopening his business in Alexandria, Johnson decided to start selling hot tubs and spas and became a HotSpring Spa dealer.
He called it a gift and eventually changed the name of his business from Douglas County Lumber to Douglas County Home Center.
The shift to become a spa dealer, he said, was because of his customers. Many home improvement projects over the years included people adding a hot tub, sauna, pool or spa and that it made sense to become a dealer.
“It’s (spas and the like) are part of the construction process and business,” he said. “Not everyone understood that, but I did. We were still Douglas County Lumber, but we were more than that and that is why we changed to Douglas County Home Center.”
Johnson said his hot tub business flourished and is what kept his business going, which is why it was such a gift.
During the pandemic, home improvement projects were flourishing and the demand was there, but eventually the product wasn’t, including his hot tubs.
“I met my match and I tagged out,” he said. “But after almost 44 years, I am not embarrassed. It was a good long haul.”
And now that he is retired, besides spending time in his own hot tub, Johnson said he has a long list of his own projects he plans to work on. Plus, he plans to spend plenty of time hunting and fishing.
He said there were those who said he would never make it, but that there were many more who said he would.
“Those were my customers, many of whom became friends,” he said. “And I want to thank all of them for their business.”