January 31, 2023 | Warren Shoulberg
One of the more colorful – and successful – figures in the business of lumber retailing, Hardy went out with his usual flair for the theatrical.
He could usually be found holding his trademark cigar, often behind the wheel of his Rolls Royce, or being entertained by celebrities like Bette Midler or Kenny Rogers at family events. So it was only fitting that 84 Lumber founder and impresario Joseph A. Hardy III died on his 100th birthday, earlier this month.
Hardy founded the retailer in 1956 – its first store was in the town of Eighty Four, PA just outside of Pittsburgh – and at its peak had more than 500 stores scattered around the country. Specializing in lumber and building supplies for professional builders and remodelers it generally stayed below the radar of giants like Home Depot and Lowe’s.
Nevertheless, the housing collapse and resulting Great Recession that started in 2007 took its toll on the company and today it operates 234 stores in 34 states. In the 1990s Hardy passed the leadership of 84 Lumber to his daughter Meg who remains in charge. The company recently announced it was opening or expanding five stores in 2023 and continuing to expand its manufacturing operations.
Turning over the reins didn’t stop Hardy from staying active, dabbling in real estate development and tending to his family which had swelled to eight children, 15 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.
As for his “adventures,” as the Wall Street Journal called them, Hardy explained it all in a 1997 interview: “As you get older, before you cash in, you wonder – lumber, it’s pretty good. But is that all there is?”
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