• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Woodford Feed: 76 years and counting

WOODFORD FEED owner Robert Cleveland engaging in his favorite part of the job: waiting on customers. On this day, David Fowler bought dog treats, but he's purchased pocket knives, gloves and Carhartt clothes there in the past. (Photo by John McGary)

In 1940, Robert Cleveland opened Woodford Feed in downtown Versailles. Eight years later, he moved his business a mile or so down Lexington Road. His son, Robert "Bob Mac" Cleveland, wasn't born when dad pulled up stakes, but remembers hearing that some customers thought the relocated business would fail - because it was too far out in the county. In 2016, Woodford Feed, now run by Bob Mac, is still at 498 Lexington Road, though it's long since added lawn and garden products, building supplies and other items to its inventory. Cleveland, 61, began working full-time at Woodford Feed when he graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1978, and said he doesn't plan on walking away any time soon. Cleveland said his father died a month short of his 90th birthday. He'd worked that day. "I don't know if I want to work that much, but I really don't have any immediate plans on retiring. This is what I want to do. I don't want to play golf, I'm not a fisherman. I guess my hobby is working," Cleveland said. In an interview last week with The Sun, Cleveland motioned to an office desk cluttered with papers, smiled and admitted, "I tend to somewhat let the paperwork go." He said he'd much rather be at the counter, waiting on people, where Woodford Feed can outdo the big boys. Cleveland said he can compete, price-wise, with larger chain businesses - until they run promotions made possible by their ability to order more inventory at reduced prices. "On a day-to-day business, we do really well. And where we really excel - at least, I hope we excel - is the service. People can walk in here, in the lawn and garden business, and if they have a particular weed or bush problem, they can ask and somebody here can answer the question," Cleveland said. "You go to Walmart, or Kmart, or even Kroger, you're chasing an answer - that's what it amounts to." Long before Bob Mac took over, his father had to expand Woodford Feed's offerings. Grazing provided much of the food for local cattle herds and horses, and there weren't many hog or dairy operations in the area, so Woodford Feed began selling lawn and garden supplies and building materials. "Dad wanted Woodford Feed to be the place to come for everything but your heavy equipment needs," Cleveland said, adding that his father turned down a John Deere dealership offer because he thought it would "spread the operation too thin." Today, Cleveland said, shoppers can find most anything they need for their farm, lawn and garden except for heavy equipment, though the shop does carry chain saws, weed trimmers and other power equipment. Area chicken and duck owners (Cleveland said some of his customers have commercial duck businesses) get their feed at Woodford Feed. So does David Fowler, who's been shopping there for about a decade and on this day is purchasing dog treats. Fowler said he'd also purchased pocket knives, gloves and Carhartt clothes at Woodford Feed. "It's like an old store. Everybody's friendly, they all seem like they know you, and I don't know a one of them," Fowler said with a laugh. "They treat you like they've known you forever." A moment later, Patsy Turner walked in, looking for violet killer - just for the patches in clover, she said. Turner's been shopping there all her life, while Megan Cole, who was waiting on her, had worked there for three weeks. Cole had bad news: They're out of violet killer, but expect to have some later in the day. That was fine with Turner. "It's convenient. They usually have everything we want for gardening and flowers and farming," Turner said. "It's just a hometown place that we all expect to have everything we want." Cole said she likes her new job, in part because she's been a customer herself for several years. "It's interesting. It's different than what I was used to - farming, taking care of cattle and horses, but I like it. I like that I get to stay within the same industry and take care of a lot of my fellow industry leaders ." she said. Cleveland said he expects to one day hand over the reins to 26-year-old son Robert Cleveland II, who's already working there and graduated from UK with an agriculture business degree. Meantime, he still fends off the occasional rumor about selling out. Last year, customers began asking if he'd really sold the site and 56-acre farm behind it to Walmart for an enormous amount of money. "If I had been offered that sum of money, I would have sold it in a heartbeat and moved somewhere else," Cleveland said. The rumor began when the city of Versailles ran a water line across the back of his property to help with pressure issues elsewhere. Cleveland said people saw the equipment and jumped to conclusions. "I didn't get a lot of heat - I got a lot of laughs out of it," he said. Cleveland said he prefers not to share the amount of the rumored offer, but added that if it had been true, the high price would have made any development there unfeasible. "I thought it was quite comical ." Cleveland said. Cleveland said Walmart never approached him, but didn't rule out selling at least some of his land there one day. "I do own what you might say, some prime property behind the store that I guess at some point will either be houses or something else," he said. That's not in the immediate future, he added. Until then, and perhaps after, if he only sells the farm, he'll continue selling animal feed, fertilizer, snow shovels, ice melters, livestock watering devices, bird seed, and providing the occasional free-of-charge referral. "A lot of people will say, 'I know you probably don't handle this, but I think you might know who does, or where I can get it,'" Cleveland said. "I like every facet of the business. What I really like doing is waiting on customers, the interaction with the public."

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