Pages of time: Anderson’s bookstore keeps people in pens, paper for more than a century

Phil Anderson III has worked at and/or owned Anderson's Office Supply since 1958. Wendy Nugent/Newton Now

By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now

When Philip Murray Anderson set up shop in an 8-by-16-foot box he used for a newsstand in the 1800s, the streets in Newton weren’t yet paved. They were dirt. The first car only had been invented a few years earlier. To get around, folks most likely walked, rode the train or got around on horseback.

Trains going through Newton had a large influence in how Anderson’s Book and Office Supply got started. The business came about with humble beginnings, with Philip Murray Anderson selling newspapers on trains going through town for a couple of years in the late 1800s. It’s had at least four locations during the three centuries it’s touched since opening, as it’s been on Main Street in Newton for 125 years, starting in 1892.

Anderson’s has been around for many of America’s significant historical events, like the sinking of the Titanic, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, the recession of 2008, 22 presidencies, starting with Grover Cleveland, the Korean Conflict, assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the Industrial Revolution, Civil Rights Movement and the computer age.

Phil Anderson walks through his store on May 18. The store sells a variety of items, including books, school supplies and toys. Wendy Nugent/Newton Now

It’s also been witness to a variety of local events, such as the Ragsdale Opera House fire of 1914, the evolution of the Newton Fire/EMS Department, the replacement of the “old” Harvey County Courthouse, and numerous businesses coming and going, all the while sitting on Main Street, a quiet sentinel to days gone by.

Those days of yesteryear are apparent inside the current store at 624 N. Main, where the business relocated in 1938. The building was constructed in 1883, however. The floor appears to be the original wooden one, and wooden stairs leading to the second floor, which is kind of a balcony, are worn very low from decades of use.

Philip Murray Anderson’s original “box” stand got the whole thing started in a vacant lot at 420 Main, near the railroad. In 1900, the business moved to 422 Main, and then a few years later, Philip Murray Anderson bought the building next door at 424 Main from a Connecticut man, who only would accept gold as payment.

One of the locations sold art goods, Libby’s cut glass, Haviland Chinaware and books, while the other specialized in sporting goods, and office and school supplies.

Although he was the founder, Philip Murray Anderson actually wasn’t the first generation involved with the shops. His mother, Clarissa Anderson, was a part for a couple decades. She would have been current owner Phil Anderson III’s great-grandmother.

When Clarissa Anderson died perhaps more than 100 years ago, the rail workers in Newton mourned.

“Dad said all the railroaders walked behind her casket to the cemetery,” Phil III said.

There have been five generations owning and working at the store, from Clarissa to Phil Anderson III’s sons, Murray Anderson, who helps with the Internet, and Milt, who does engraving through the store on the side. They are the fifth generation.

The store’s founder was Phil III’s grandfather. After selling newspapers on trains, he opened the magazine and newsstand two years later, selling cold drinks, bakery goods, candy, tobacco and sandwiches. Clarissa made the baked goods and sandwiches, and she’s remembered for the pies she made.

“The railroad employees found a friend in Mrs. Anderson,” an Anderson’s store pamphlet explains.

When Clarissa passed away, they closed the Santa Fe shops so employees could follow her casket.

Phil Anderson III, left, talks to customer Linda Strasser on May 18 in the store. Wendy Nugent/Newton Now

In 1918, the two stores combined at 424 Main St. following three auctions in 1917 that sold out the glassware and China.

“[Philip Murray] Anderson added balconies to the store after seeing them in a confectionary in Wichita,” the pamphlet stated. “Sliding ladders on rails had been used to retrieve merchandise.”

“He sold these buildings to the Santa Fe so they could build the depot,” Anderson said.

That depot sits there today.

Following that, these original balconies, vault, elevator and staircase were moved to 522 Main St. in 1928, which was next to the Regent Theater.

Ten years later, the business relocated again, this time to its current location because Philip Murray Anderson wanted to be closer to the high school, which now is Santa Fe 5/6 Center, since the store sold school supplies.

“Anderson rented the building on a handshake deal with banker Leonard Nelson,” the pamphlet stated.

This location once housed the first J.C. Penney store in the state; this store then was known as “The Golden Rule Store.” The name of the store still is imbedded in the hexagon tiles on the ground that lead into the business from Main Street.

Phil III has a story about his grandfather and some folks who tried to rob the store in the 1940s. He said the robbers cut a hole in the roof on the third floor over the elevator shaft and got into the store that way.

“They were some hoodlums who, I think, did some robbing in Dodge City later,” Phil III said. “They got away before he ever saw them. People were finding checks north of town.” Those checks were ones the robbers obtained from the store and were blowing around. “Those are the stories you remember.”

The founder died in 1951, when Phil III was a senior in high school, and Anderson’s dad, Phil E. Anderson, son of the founder, not only grew up in the store but became bookkeeper and was a clerk after graduating from The University of Kansas in 1931. In 1959, he bought the business from his step-mother, Mary Stromberg Anderson, when she retired. She was associated with the business for 48 years.

“My dad spent his lifetime in here, of course,” Phil III said.

His dad also spent time using a vintage black typewriter, which still sits in the work area at the store. There’s still what appears to be an invoice in the machine.

“My dad pounded on it until the day he died,” Phil III said about the typewriter.

Current owner Phil III joined the business in 1958 after serving his country in the military and graduating from Wichita State University. He and his wife, Jan, had three children, Clay, Murray and Milton Philip.

Throughout the years, Anderson’s has kept up with the times. During World War II, when there were no fireworks regulations, it was the only place in Newton that sold the noisy Fourth of July pyrotechnics. They also sold textbooks before textbook rentals came about, and now they post items on the Internet, as well as selling Melissa and Doug, a line of children’s toys. In honor of the store’s anniversary, the Melissa and Doug Company sent Phil III a large stuffed giraffe.

In retail, if the business doesn’t change with the times, they don’t make it.

“With changes in retailing, we expanded our line to selling [NHS] letter jackets, patches and sports memorabilia,” Phil III said, adding that was in 2004.

The company that does the letter jackets for Phil III sent him a letter jacket in honor of his anniversary. On the jacket is embroidered, “Anderson’s Family Business on Main Street 125 years.”

Phil III isn’t the only one in the family to have a letter jacket. He said he’s bought such jackets for his seven grandchildren, and they surprised him one Christmas with a photo of all of the grandkids wearing their jackets.

That photo and the 125th-anniversary jacket are part of a display Anderson has in his store, which also includes a written timeline of Anderson’s and Newton events; vintage trophies; photographs; a framed Anderson Bookstore canvas advertisement, which was part of the curtain at the City Auditorium that was at Sixth and Poplar in 1936; a photo dated 1913 of a large group of men at the annual convention of the Kansas Anti Horse Thief Society of Newton at Fifth and Main with Anderson’s store in the background; and railroad and basketball memorabilia.

Phil III has made a window display that includes old typewriters, including a vintage Oliver, as well as some old games.

“I think the Oliver’s got the most character to it,” Anderson said, adding it was one of the first typewriters. That machine’s letter type hammers type from the side and not from the front, like most typewriters.

The display also includes a Mah Jongg board game that’s marked $1.50.

“It’s gotta be 80 years old,” Phil III said.

Also on display in the store is a 1905 solid brass register emblazoned with the name of the store across the top. Phil III said they used that machine until about 25 years ago.

“I tell people it must weigh a ton,” he said. “It’s gotta be one of the National Cash Registers.”

And with all the old, there’s still the new in the store.

“Retailing has changed so much,” Phil III said. “You don’t have the anchor stores down here. You have to have a niche. You have to carry things the big-box stores don’t.”

They still carry school and art supplies, however, but moms and grandmas have commented about how big their Doug and Melissa activity toy line is.

“In the last 25 years, retailing has changed,” Phil III said. “We have to blame it on the Internet.”

Another thing that’s happened in the past 25 years is Phil III lost his wife, Jan.

“We’ll miss Jan on this one,” Phil III said, looking down. “She was very involved in the 100th.”