BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — As The Andersons retail stores wind to a close, Dick Anderson, who early on managed the store and whose father founded it in 1952, is grateful to the community that supported it and the many employees who dedicated their lives to operating it. In January, The Andersons announced that it would close all four retail stores – Maumee, Toledo and two stores in Columbus. The company will retain the Maumee store as a storage facility, while it sells the other retail properties. Store liquidations and markdowns will continue until the official store closing in June. The lawn and garden departments and outdoor nurseries will be fully stocked through May, said Kate Langenderfer, external communications specialist for The Andersons. With the closing comes the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. Eligible employees received severance packages and career transitioning services, which will continue through the final inventory sell-down. While the retail business thrived for a period of time, the stores eventually lost out to other retailers and online companies. The decision to close did not come as a surprise to the employees, who were well aware of the changing market, Dick said. “You have to make tough decisions, and in our mission statement we say we believe in the free enterprise system, and the free enterprise system has winners and losers, and in this one, we had to admit that we were not making it,” Dick said. Competing became especially difficult when the stores entered the Columbus market – in 1986, the Brice Road store opened, and in 1987, the Sawmill Road store opened. “In Columbus came the realization it would be hard to compete. We could see that the big competitors were going to be awful hard to deal with,” he said. Although the retail business represents slightly more than 2 percent of the overall company, it was for all intents and purposes the face of The Andersons for the local community. Board chairman Mike Anderson cited falling sales – $20 million in the last eight years – as the reason to close. Dick is proud that the management team hung on to the business as long as it did. “The main motivation to keep that thing going as long as the cash flow was all right was always the jobs. People have been with us for 40, 45 and 50 years and it’s pretty hard to say goodbye to them. That’s been the hardest part of this,” he said. Dick’s father Harold opened the first retail business near the grain elevator in Maumee, as a place farmers who came to town to deliver goods could pick up supplies. As times changed so did the stores, with more opening and more goods being offered. While shoppers enjoyed buying fresh produce, meats and cheeses, and lawn and garden supplies, the wine and beer selection stood out. In Columbus, the wine department at the Sawmill Road store represented the highest sales for one store in the state of Ohio, Dick said. His wife Fran also often heard compliments about the wine and beer department. “A lot of people would ask me if I could talk to somebody about just keeping the wine department going – I heard that from a number of people, ” she said. For Dick, it serves as a reminder of how much the business changed from its inception. “If my dad knew how much wine has become such an important part of the retail business he would probably roll over in his grave,” he smiled. Dick has seen many changes throughout his 60-plus years with the company. In 1999, at age 70, he stepped away from his role as CEO and in 2009, he stepped away from his role as chairman of the board; however, an office remains for him at the new corporate headquarters, which opened last year. He doesn’t go there much, preferring to spend time on his 50-acre estate on Perrysburg-Holland Road, where he still cuts the grass and works in his woodshop. Despite health issues, including diabetes and congestive heart failure, Dick recently finished making a new altar for St. Joan of Arc Church and he built seven altarpieces for the Sisters of Notre Dame at Lial. He also continues mentoring others, offering advice about fundraising or business. The couple is also involved in multiple charities – or as Dick puts it – “any-thing that makes the com-munity better.” “We could be out every night of the week if we wanted,” he said. Fran believes that keeping active is the key to a healthy life. “I admire and I marvel at him for how he keeps going even with the condition of his health,” she said. The two describe their marriage as a 63-year love affair. Fran, whose maiden name is Heilman, is one of 13 children. While she and Dick were growing up, their families knew one another. In fact, Fran’s brother and Dick were good friends in elementary school. Dick was a student at Michigan State, home for a visit, when he saw Fran walking out of a store at the corner of East Wayne and Conant streets. He was stopped in his truck when she stepped off the curb and lifted up her skirt, he said. “And I thought, ‘man is she ever grown up,’ and that was it,” he said. Fran corrected him about the skirt. “Just above my knee – be more specific,” she laughed. She was almost 21 when they had their first date. This year she will be 84 and he will be 88. They have six children, 24 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. In June, they plan to take a cruise overseas, but Dick said it would probably be his last long vacation. “We’re so lucky. We have a wonderful family and great kids and I just don’t have the strength to travel anymore, but I don’t mind. I love home, anyway,” he said.
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