After more than 40 years, historic Craig Steel changes hands again
When a Craig institution that’s pushing 90 years old was put on the market, a lot of things had to go right in order for the business to end up in what the sellers feel are the perfect set of hands.
What started out to Don Smith as a lark has become an exciting reality, as Smith, together with his wife, Cherissee, and Mike and Annabelle Butler, takes over Craig Steel Monday as its previous owners head into retirement.
“It started almost as a joke,” Smith said. “I knew Mike — we both worked at the power plant, where I’ve been a trainer most recently — and I knew he was looking for something, so I shot him a text message saying what do you think about the steel business?”
Smith had heard Craig Steel, owned since 1979 by Don Jones and Larry Talkington, was for sale. Smith had known Jones and Talkington since the 1980s at least, and had worked with them on and off for decades.
As it turned out, though, Smith’s longtime friend, Butler, was already thinking along the same lines.
“He was already in the works on it, said he’d been wanting to talk to me,”One of those things. I talked to my wife and we decided we would join in. We really wanted to be here in Craig a few more years, and I always had a great relationship with Larry and Don. So it was a joke, but now it’s reality.”
Monday is the first day of new ownership, as Talkington and Jones hand over the keys to the company they took on in 1979, but which originated in Craig in the early 1930s.
“We’re the luckiest guys in the world,” Talkington said. “We get to sell out, retire, and we’re selling to locals. That means everything. It keeps Craig Steel in Craig, with Craig people running it. It’s fantastic.”
Jones admitted there was some sadness in walking away from the centerpiece of their lives for the last 42 years.
“It’s a bittersweet thing that it’s ending,” Jones said. “But it’s time. It’s time to see what the rest of the world is like. We took over Craig Steel when Unit 3 was just starting at the power plant. It opened in 1932, ‘33, and it’s always been here. We’re basically the third owners in 90 years. It’s a historic moment — certainly for us. That’s why I’m glad Don and Mike are locals.”
Butler, who like Smith had spent much of the last segment of his career at Tri-State, said the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“It’s being involved in the community and carrying on a tradition that’s been ongoing since the ‘30s,” Butler said. “My aunt’s great uncle, or someone, was one of the ones who started Craig Steel and Salvage back in 1932, and this is kind of coming full circle. My family homesteaded here in the early 1900s, so a sense of community is big. I’ve known Don and Larry a lot of years, so to carry on the tradition of taking care of their customers, that’s special.”
Longtime friends and associates, Smith and Butler, together with their wives, are ready to forge ahead into what for them will be a new adventure.
“You want to be as successful as (Jones and Talkington) have been,” Butler said. “Want to keep that going as long as you can. I want to be able to run this until I can retire, and then hopefully somebody comes along with initiative and a sense of community to take it over from us.”
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