It’s a business that has remained a staple on the corner of Canal and Main Street. It helped rebuild the community after the devastating fire of 1904. It adjusted its business model through the years while keeping the successful tradition of customer service with quality products.
It is a Yazoo icon that has kept its doors open for over a century. And for one family, it is more than a business; it’s a calling that has warmed their hearts for seven decades.
Gilbert’s Lumber and Home Center celebrates its 70th anniversary this year with owners Bill and Molly McNair. Although the business has a history that spans well over a century, the Gilbert family began its own journey in 1950 with the operation.
“Business has been good for us, almost to the point where you have to pinch yourself,” said Molly McNair. “I say that because there are some days when you wonder how you are going to make it, but somehow, you make it. Before you know it, you have made it another ten years.”
The original business arrived in Yazoo City as the Keystone Lumber Yard in 1903 by W.G. Harlow. A year after the lumber yard opened its doors, the majority of Yazoo City was left in ashes after the Great Fire of 1904.
Keystone Lumber Yard opened up for business the very next day, taking orders and making deliveries as Yazoo embarked on its rebirth. By all accounts, not a single order was delayed.
According to a 1905 newspaper article, “the Keystone Lumber Yard carries easily one of the largest retail lumber stocks south of Chicago.”
Gov. H.L. White then purchased the business, adding to his two other lumber yards in Jackson and Meridian. In 1933, A.S. “Red” Gilbert Jr. joined the business as its new bookkeeper.
Gilbert would go on to purchase the business for himself in 1950. About 23 years later, he decided he needed some help running the family business.
His daughter Molly and her husband Bill McNair accepted the invitation in 1973.
“We just got rid of our rail spur here,” Molly said, pointing to the railroad tracks. “But in the past, when a rail car would show up, it would be fully loaded with cement, roofing material, lumber…anything you could think of or want would be in that rail car.”
Molly admits the business has adjusted with the times and ever-changing trends. With big box businesses, there comes its share of challenges in competition. But one business model has stayed strong…customer service.
“Customers have been coming here with us since the first day,” Molly said. “I see many customers now who came in here with their daddies when they were little. They are that loyal to us as we are to them. We love our customers, and they truly are like our extended family.”
And with a successful model like that, it is clear why the business has remained strong and steady for over a century. And for seven decades, one family built on that tradition and continues to serve the community.
“I have lived in the Main Street business world my whole life,” Molly said. “I would ride my bike from home to meet Daddy at lunch. Then I started working here, helping customers with what they needed. I just love doing that. It has been by the grace of God that we have and will continue to make it.”