• John McGary, Woodford Sun Editor

Woodford Feed prepares to reopen for in-person business


WOODFORD FEED employee Greg Dotson shared a chuckle last Friday with longtime customer Vernon Leach, who’d come to purchase parts for cattle panels. Looking on was Leach’s Australian shepherd pup,  Lady. Leach said he’s been coming to the store all his life. (Photo by John McGary)
WOODFORD FEED employee Greg Dotson shared a chuckle last Friday with longtime customer Vernon Leach, who’d come to purchase parts for cattle panels. Looking on was Leach’s Australian shepherd pup, Lady. Leach said he’s been coming to the store all his life. (Photo by John McGary)

If all goes as planned, Woodford Feed will begin letting customers

inside the store this week for the first time since March 19, 2020,

according to owner Bob Cleveland.

Last year’s decision to operate via drive-thru and deliveries came the

day after Greg Dotson, who’s worked there for more than six years,

suggested the move, Dotson and Cleveland said.

“I went to Bob Mack and I told him, ‘We’ve got to do something. We can

be either proactive or reactive.’ … And so we set down in his office and

… we came up with this, and we’ve made it work the best we can,” Dotson

said. (People began calling Cleveland, whose middle name is McConnell,

‘Bob Mack’ or ‘Mr. Mack’ decades ago to set him apart from his father

and company co-founder, Robert H. Cleveland, who worked there until he

was 89 and died in 2007. “I pretty much answer to anything,” he said,

laughing.)

On what seemed to be a busy Friday afternoon (Dotson said, “Oh, this is

slow”), cars and trucks and SUVs pulled into Woodford Feed’s parking lot

to pick up orders or make new ones.

Bob Harley came for something to treat holly trees with spots, John and

Evalina Settle for bird feed and deer corn and Vernon Leach for bolts

and washers for cattle panels. All are longtime customers; all said

they’re happy Woodford Feed is still around.

“It means a lot. I like stopping by here. They know what they’re doing,”

said Harley.

Between trips into the store and the back lot, Dotson said customers and

his fellow employees have adjusted to the pandemic way of work. “We do

our best – sometimes it gets a little hectic out here, especially on

Saturdays, it’s crazy – that’s our busiest day of the week …” he said.

The home, garden and farm supply store has been a part of Versailles

since 1940, when Robert H. Cleveland and first cousin Robert McConnell

opened Woodford Feed on South Main Street, where American Legion Post 67

is now. Each left to serve in World War II; Bob Cleveland said the

business was run by trusted employees while they were gone. In 1945,

Cleveland and McConnell moved the company to South Locust Street, and

three years later to its present location at 198 Lexington Road.

(Cleveland said his father did not influence the choice of that area for

the eastern end of the U.S. 60 Bypass, which opened across the road in

1963 or so, but acknowledged the increased traffic has helped the

business.)

Cleveland, 66, whose sister Martha Gardner handles the company’s books,

acknowledged that he’d wondered whether the Versailles institution would

survive COVID-19.

“I was worried about what would happen if the pandemic would get worse …

let’s just say if we had a lockdown with the scope they’ve had in Europe

– yeah, that concerned me greatly …” he said during an interview in

which he paused at least a half-dozen times to answer questions from

employees and customers.

The decision to close the store to in-person shopping, he said, was

largely about protecting its feed mill. “Every day, we run six or seven

trucks delivering feed to all the horse farms and cattle farms and stuff

like that, and what we were really concerned about was what would happen

if we got the virus inside our organization,” he said.

Cleveland was also worried about how customers, many of whom like

walking in and looking around, would feel about the new rules. For the

most part, those concerns were unfounded, he said.

“I’ve had two or three customers, even when we change and go back to

letting people in, say, ‘I hope you continue with the drive-thru,’

because they say it’s nice, especially if you know exactly what you

want, you want to get it and go,” Cleveland said.

The drive-thru service will continue, then, even as concerns over the

pandemic fade, he said. All of his in-store staff have been vaccinated

and about 80 percent of the rest have, too, and despite sales drops in

some areas over the past year, Cleveland said none of his 36 workers

were let go.

“ … We have never laid anybody off or furloughed anybody,” he said. “Our

feelings are if you expect them to be here during busy times, you’ve got

to pay them to be here during slow times, also.”

Cleveland said he was grateful to hear the comments of longtime

customers happy that Woodford Feed has made it out the other side.

“(They are) the reason we’re here. I mean, a lot of the people who’ve

been trading here have been trading here for years and we appreciate

their loyalty,” he said, then took another call.

Out front, as the Settles prepared to drive away, a reporter told them

something they likely already knew – that Woodford Feed has been around

for 81 years.

“So have I,” John Settle said, laughing.

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