Woodford Feed prepares to reopen for in-person business
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,
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,”
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
Cleveland, 66, whose sister Martha Gardner handles the company’s books,
acknowledged that he’d wondered whether the Versailles institution would
“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.