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Business

For Nearly 130 Years, This Newton Store Has Offered Old-Fashioned Customer Service

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Suzanne Perez
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KMUW

Anderson Office Supply in downtown Newton is a time capsule of sorts.

The history behind Anderson Office Supply hits you before you even open the door.

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Suzanne Perez
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KMUW

A historic marker at the corner of Broadway and Main in downtown Newton explains that five generations of the Anderson family have operated the store, which is one of the oldest in the country.

Phillip Murray Anderson started the business in 1892 — the same year the notorious Dalton Gang was robbing banks and getting into shootouts elsewhere in Kansas.

Forced to work as a teenager to help support his mother and siblings, the first Phillip Anderson sold newspapers, magazines and baked goods on the Santa Fe trains that came through town, meeting every train from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

He opened his first store on a different part of Main Street and became a retail pioneer: the first in the state to sell Waterman fountain pens, Victrola record players, Eastman Kodak supplies and GE refrigerators.

These days, 89-year-old Phillip Anderson III owns and runs the store.

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Suzanne Perez
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KMUW

“A lot of changes in those many years, but we still offer the personal service,” Anderson said. “There’s just not many Ma-and-Pa stores left.”

The shelves at Anderson’s are filled with a wide array of products, including pens, pencils, envelopes and calendars. There’s a wall of Melissa & Doug toys and puzzles — “grandmothers love them, so they know where to come,” Anderson says — and another wall of Hallmark cards. A section of books features local authors and subject matter, including KU basketball.

The squeaky hardwood floors have been here since the turn of last century. Elaborately carved wooden drawers hold erasers and rubber stamps. A brass cash register from 1905 sits on a table in the back. And a glass cabinet displays silver championship cups from Newton High School.

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Suzanne Perez
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KMUW

How does Anderson’s compete with the big-box stores and online retailers?

Phil’s son, Murray, started selling some of the store’s retro or hard-to-find items on eBay and captured a whole new clientele.

The hottest seller: double-spool typewriter ribbons that fit the old Royal, Remington or Smith & Corona typewriters.

“You’d be amazed at the number of typewriters still in use worldwide,” Anderson said. “That’s definitely our biggest seller.”

Every year at back-to-school time, Anderson’s gets the lists of required school supplies for Newton and surrounding districts and gathers them into kits labeled by grade level. Anderson lines the aisles with bags of supplies, so customers can come in and grab what they need.

“That’s our niche, and it’s become very popular,” he said. “It saves a lot of hassle. The mothers and dads sure enjoy it, and they tell us they’ll be back next year.”

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Suzanne Perez
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KMUW

One recent morning, Loyal Smith strolled in to buy an ink cartridge for his printer. They hang on the wall behind the counter, not far from those old typewriter ribbons.

Another customer, the mom of a Newton High School cheerleader, dropped in to pick up her daughter’s letter jacket. The store stocks the jackets and offers an embroidery service to attach letters and add names.

Phil Anderson III said he didn’t intend to take over the family business. It just happened. He graduated from Wichita State University in the mid-1950s and tried to get a job.

“But there was a recession going on,” he said. “So I ended up here — not by choice — doing the clerking and things with my father.

“But here I am, 67 years later, and I enjoy every day. . . . It’s fun meeting the public.”

Phil’s son Murray owns other businesses in Newton and helps with Anderson’s online sales. He’s likely to take over the store whenever Phil finally retires.

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Suzanne Perez
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KMUW

The building at Broadway and Main used to be the first J.C. Penney store in Kansas. Back then, Penney called his stores “Golden Rule” stores, and the phrase is still written in black tiles at the entrance of Anderson’s.

Phillip Anderson III likes it there, he says. Because more than 100 years since the store opened, that’s still his business philosophy: Treat other people the way you want to be treated.

“We get lots and lots of out-of-town people, a lot of Wichita and even out-of-state people have heard about our store,” he said.

They appreciate sifting through stashes of pens and pencils, finding the perfect-sized envelope or notebook, or splurging on that collector’s-item typewriter.

“Just the nostalgia,” he said. “I think that’s a big part.”