Many businesses that rely on construction or home improvement in Ashland, are having a tough time sustaining themselves right now.

The stacks of wood at Ashland Lumber Company slumbered in the Oak Street yard Tuesday afternoon, waiting to be woken by someone who was building in Ashland.

But for months, hardly anyone has been building. The city's Planning Commissioners, who typically approve or deny building applications, have taken to filling their meetings with broad-topic talks on transportation and sustainability.

The fact is, many businesses that rely on construction or home improvement in Ashland are having a tough time sustaining themselves right now.

So the stacks of wood at Ashland Lumber Company wait — and the business owners and contractors do too.

"There's very little new construction going on in the valley," said Bob Hodgins, whose family owns Ashland Lumber Company. "We're seeing the biggest impact with the contractors and the re-modelers — those are the people that are really hurting right now."

Business at his company was down about 30 percent last year, as compared to 2007, Hodgins said. He expects this year to bring another 20 or 30 percent drop in sales.

"It's kind of a cumulative thing," he said. "The percent keeps crumbling."

Meanwhile, competition is fierce for the few local construction jobs and related contracting work, said Tom Walker, project manager and estimator for Adroit Construction Company Inc., the largest construction company in Ashland.

"I think overall Ashland is no different than the rest of our area or region in that it's slowed down recently and significantly," Walker said. "Certainly things are not what they were two years ago or even a year ago."

A year ago, there were usually three or four general contractors competing for jobs. Now, there are a dozen or more, Walker said.

More painters, pavers, plumbers and other skilled laborers that are often hired by general contractors are vying for fewer jobs as well, he said.

"We're seeing subcontrators coming out of the residential market, because the residential market is so slow, and they're looking for work in the commercial market. The numbers seem to be getting more and more competitive. We're even seeing pressure from out-of-town people," he said.

Building usually slows in the colder months in the Rogue Valley, but this year it appears to have come close to a halt.

"Typically this time of year — even in the good years — it's slower," Walker said. "But your intuition tells you that this is a worse year than certainly we have seen in the past."

Businesses in Ashland that sell supplies to contractors and subcontractors have also seen a slump in sales.

Miller Paint Company on Ashland Street has tried to lower its expenses to avoid laying people off, said Chris Muck, the store manager.

"We've tightened our belts," he said. "You hear a lot of bad things on the news, but it's not horrible. Regionally we're doing just fine."

However, "painters are having a tougher time" than paint stores right now, Muck said.

While sales are down on building supplies at Ashland Ace Hardware, more people are buying repair equipment and garden supplies, said Tim Ringer, the store manager.

"What we're noticing is that homeowners are more active in repairing things. Instead of buying new, they're repairing. Instead of taking great strides to update things, they're just repairing them," he said.

Locals are also returning to their gardens to try to save cash, he said.

"This is an exceptionally strong year for lawn and garden because people aren't paying gardeners themselves anymore. And they're also growing food. They're buying the zucchini, the tomatoes that are easy to grow and expensive to buy now. They're saying, 'Well, I got a patch of ground out back and now I can make use of it.'"

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.