By Garrett Estrada
Ely Times Staff Writer
At age 80, Lee Anderson still takes pride in precisely cutting the meats he sells in his grocery store, Anderson Food Town. After running the store with his wife LeAnna since 1977, he has garnered a reputation for quality, one that has come from years of hard work and friendly service.
“If you treat people fair and be good to them all the time, they are going to become loyal to you,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s store and bakery offer a smaller alternative to the bigger grocery chains. It’s an approach that has earned a reliable return customer base. One of his specialty services brings in hunters to help turn their prized animals into different delicious cuts.
“I’m very particular about that kind of stuff,” Anderson said. “If someone asks me for something, I’ll drop what I’m doing immediately and cut. I have a lot of people that come in that like special cuts of meat and I do it specifically how they want it.”
But Anderson has no claims to total control over the store. For that, he defers to “the big boss,” his wife. LeAnna Anderson said she met Lee in Kindergarten and they’ve been together ever since. They run the store as a duo, with Lee handling the day-to-day day operations, while LeAnna takes care of the bookkeeping while also running the couple’s other business, The Western Store, right down 11th Street East.
In her years with the store, LeAnna said she has enjoyed watching the young people her and her husband trained in their store grow up. She thinks the old-school work ethic they instilled in their young employees eventually helped them grow into responsible members of the community.
“He has taught a lot of kids for years how to work,” LeAnna Anderson said of her husband. “For instance, he had one man ask ‘What are you doing? Are you trying to kill my son?’ And he said ‘If you don’t want me to teach him to work then take him home.’ He came in the very next day and told my husband to teach his son to work and now that young man has grown to be a city planner in another city.”
The most important aspect to the business according to the two owners is the customer service. While many of the items they sell can be found in larger stores, the helpful and inviting atmosphere has brought customers back to Anderson’s for over three and a half decades. If for some reason the store doesn’t have a particular item, Anderson said he can special order it and have it in a week or less.
“How many of the big stores do you go into and have to wait around for a while for someone to ask to help you,” LeAnna said. “We are very people oriented, and we hold our employees accountable for their service.”
Increased governmental regulation on young workers has made it difficult for the store at times, and Anderson said it’s just business as usual for him to work 11 hour shifts, seven days a week. It has served as a lesson about owning his own business, that he is never really off.
“I always thought that if you owned your own business, it would be a lot easier. You think that as an owner you can come and go quite a bit,” Anderson said. “When I got into the business, I realized it wasn’t that easy.”
Even still, he has no plans of slowing down.
“People come in and ask me all the time, wondering when I’m going to retire,” Anderson said. “I always tell them, that when I can learn to spell the word, that’s when I’ll think about giving it up.”