Behind The Counter Episode 5: Public Lumber Co.

In this episode of “Behind The Counter,” Andy Didorosi and Annamarie Sysling sit down with Christa Sarafa of Public Lumber Company.

Before taking an active role in her family’s business, Sarafa says she practiced law, sold pharmaceuticals, advertising and helped to organize and launch the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. She says the only real promotion that was done for that first year of DEMF was handing out flyers to people at the Winter Music Conference in Miami.

After the first year of DEMF, Sarafa walked away from the electronic music event. For a time, she continued selling pharmaceuticals, and also wrote for Orbit Magazine and Real Detroit Weekly. It wasn’t until her father passed away that she became involved in the family business, Public Lumber Company. “I was really only supposed to do it for six months and it’s been five and a half years,” she says of her time at Public Lumber.

Established in 1927, Public Lumber is one of the last remaining lumber yards in the City of Detroit. While it’s been family-owned all that time, Sarafa’s father and uncle didn’t buy the store until 1976. Back then, Sarafa says, it was a traditional hardware store, and the shop “had neighbors and it was in more of a community.” However, in the 1980s and 90s, she says the area struggled with blight. But now, things are better, even if the area around the business (located at I-75 and Seven Mile Road) is still relatively barren. “It’s a really good time for businesses who have put their blood, sweat and tears into the city to finally reap the benefits,” says Sarafa. Public Lumber shifted away from being a traditional lumber yard in the 1990s, and currently specializes in custom millwork for historic homes throughout the city. In 2015, the company was awarded the Detroit New Economy Initiatives NEIdea’s $100,000 Challenge grant.

Throughout this conversation, additional topics include Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson, Tallulah Bankhead, pseudonyms, dollhouses and marine plywood.

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