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Harriman business perseveres in face of crises

By Cindy Simpson

Christmas Lumber Co. opened its doors in 1926.
It was a time of prosperity in Harriman, with a number of industries along the Emory River.
That would change a few years later. A couple of devastating events, namely the flood of 1929 and the subsequent stock market crash that led to the Great Depression, wiped out a number of businesses.
But Christmas Lumber, a family-owned and -operated business, weathered through it all with dedicated employees and customers.
It continues today to provide lumber and other services to clientele including builders, remodelers, plumbers, electricians, dock builders, commercial and industrial customers.
“We have competitive prices, and we have the best service; it is as simple as that,” said Tony Roberts, who has been with the company since February 1976.
“If you take care of your customers, they’ll come back.”
In addition to lumber, the company builds trusses, hangs doors and has other elements for construc-
“We ship trusses all over the South, really,” said Vice President Theron “Tee” Cleveland IV.
“We also distribute some windows.”
The company still ships and receives lumber by the rail line  that runs through the property.  
The company first expanded from its 1926 location by buying neighboring Stowers Lumber Co.
An old building on the warehouse property on Emory Road is believed to have survived the 1929 flood and conveniently rested where it would be of use to a thriving business.
It’s still in use.
“It was an old factory on up the river, and it floated down here. This is where it landed, and this is where it stayed,” said Cleveland, his family’s fourth generation in the business.
Cleveland’s father, Theron Cleveland III, operates the Knoxville store.
Other family members, including his mother and aunts, are also involved in the company as well.
Aunt Debby Lutz is chairwoman.
“I knew all along this is what I wanted to do,” the younger Cleveland said. “I like the business. I like the people side most. I like dealing with customers, meeting new customers and trying to help them find solutions. If we have a successful customer we are going to be successful.”
Tee Cleveland is the great-grandson of founder James David Christmas, who served at one time as Harriman mayor.
Cleveland’s grandfather, John Smith, now 88, bought the popular lumber and hardware company from his father-in-law.
“He still comes in the office,” Cleveland said. “He was president and chair of the board.”
Cleveland praised his grandfather for taking Christmas’ vision and making it strong when he took it over in 1954.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of money,” Cleveland said. “He had to squeeze by the early years for a long time to keep the doors open. He was really frugal. We were able to withstand.”
One step Smith took was to get out of the lumber production business. It’s now a lumber distribution center.  
The company’s warehouse along Emory Road was significantly damaged by fire in 2000.
The housing decline after 2008 also hurt the company.
“We are finally starting to get out of the woods,” Cleveland said. “People are finally starting to build again.”
One mainstay at the store nowadays is a sweet short-haired brown pooch named Maggie, a Vizsla.
She belongs to Allen Gaines, son of longtime president Walter Gaines who retired in 2011 after 23 years.
“They have always been good to me, and they let me bring my dog to work, don’t they, Maggie?” Gaines said.
“She comes to work with me every day,” he added. “When I ran the yard, she rode on the little Gator with me.”
Cleveland noted, “We have customers that come in just to see her.”
The company remains dedicated to the community including establishing a scholarship at Roane State Community College and donating land for Harriman Riverfront Park.