Working at a strategic location (Central Lumber and Hardware) in town, Jeff Sell has a pretty clear view of the building situation in the area. He notes, “Steady growth in construction in the area. In the last 10 years, an average of 2 to 3 houses have been built each year. Last year, we had four. The potential is out there. Talking to area contractors and potential homebuilders, six to seven houses could be built in 2007.”
“Harlowton has a number of small contractors. They hire extra help as needed. Matt Hagl is doing roofing. Jeff Perry is painting. (Both are former Central Lumber employees.) Each is filling a niche. Other contractors don’t want to do those jobs. We didn’t have a roofer in town. Now, we do.”
Jeff Sell was the general contractor for the construction of one home on the west side in 2006. (Sell’s father did the financing.) Ken Berg did the dirt work. Greg Berg and Jim Bouchard did the framing. Wilting handled plumbing and heating. DeShaw did electric and Dean Sorensen did much of the finish work. Joe Brouillette did taping and painting, Matt Hagl the roofing.
Sell has built a half dozen houses over the years in Central Lumber’s trade area between Lennep, Ryegate and Judith Gap.
“As far as Central Lumber is concerned at this time of year, we are as busy as we have ever been. In late fall, we normally decrease our inventory and build up again in April. This year, we’ve been keeping busy at a steady pace and maintained our inventory.”
Sales and construction are only a part of what keeps Jeff Sell occupied. Sell is in his first year - first term - on the Harlowton City Council. “We’re starting to accomplish things. It’s a slower process than you would want it to be, but we’re still getting things do.”
Jeff is in his second of three years on the Harlowton School Board. He was on the board for an earlier three-year term and then took a break and returned recently. “We’re looking at building renovation or even putting up new school buildings. Our schools are very old and in much need of repairs. We have big maintenance costs and need to consider building new structures.”
Jeff took on the recent term because nobody filed and Jeff placed his name as a write-in on the last day. “It’s a sad thing when you can’t get competition for open seats on the school board or council. In the previous school board election, there were two openings and five applicants. I know it’s a small town and a lot of people have held these jobs before. But, others have to step up and help the community.”
Mr. Sell has also served on the board of the Harlowton Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture for a total of eleven years. He was its president on three different occasions.
Sell moved to Harlowton in the fall of 1984 from Big Timber where he grew up and graduated from high school. Jeff attended college in Missoula for one year, but stayed out the following year to help at the family store while his father recovered from back surgery. Sell grew up into the business: The Color Shop, a decorator store - paint, wall coverings.
In the next summer, Jeff moved up to Harlowton to manage “for a couple years” Central Lumber and Hardware which his family had purchased. Sell obviously stayed on. “I guess I did the job and I liked it. The Tomlinsons had moved over from North Dakota and I met Teri. We got married and started a family.”
Jeff and Teri have three children: Cameron studying motorcycle mechanics in Phoenix, Shaylee a sophomore and Eric a freshman at HHS.
Jeff has been running Central Lumber and Hardware for 22 years now. “It has grown over the years. It’s a lot busier. We put on one addition where we have our floor coverings, glass cutting and storage. We moved the front door and cash register location. When I began here, there was myself and one employee. Now, Teri and I and 3 full-time and one part-time employees run the business.”
Sell does take time out for GOLF. Jeff Sell is an avid golfer. “I’ve played since I was fourteen. They built a course in Big Timber. My grandfather took me out and I was hooked after the first round.”
Jeff was on the high school golf team in Big Timber in his freshman year. “Just four of us. We eventually had 24 boys and girls on the high school team.”
“Golf starts this spring at Harlowton High School. Greg Wasson will be coaching. Fourteen students showed up at the first meeting.”
Sell’s favorite golf course is unsurprisingly the Jawbone Creek Country Club. “It’s a great course and a well-run club. I don’t think you can go to any town of this size and find a course and clubhouse like ours. The greens are in great shape because of covers which have been used for the past two winters. (Sell lobbied for the covers for ten years. Dave and Katie Smith sewed the covers with materials purchased with donated money.) We have a steady membership, but do need more outside players.”
Sell’s father sold the Color Shop five years ago and took up retirement at age 70. “I guarantee I will retire before he did. Oh yeah, I’ll find something else.” Golf will certainly be one thing to spend his time on.
While golf is his local pastime, Jeff does take a real vacation from time to time. Jeff and Teri took a trip to Costa Rica with their hardware business group in January. Seventh trip in 10 years. Highlights of the vacation were a boat tour of a national park and ziplining high above a tropical forest (jungle). Yahoo!
The rest of the year, Jeff works 50 to 60 hours a week at Central Lumber where he looks for more growth and hopes it can be sustained. He feels pretty much the same for Harlowton. “I think Harlowton has been discovered. I look for continued growth and expect things to keep going.”