Andy's founder built legacy through store

Walter M. Anderson, who died Wednesday, made Christian principles the foundation of his business.

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Sisters Lynette Gordon (left) and Connie Burke (right) laugh as their father, Walt Anderson, jokingly talks about how he wants Andy's Market to be "number one." Gordon and Burke grew up working at Andy's Market after their father purchased the store. After some changes in management employees are happier now that Anderson is back at the helm of the College Place market with the help of his son-in-law Dave Gordon (not pictured). Thursday, October 29, 2009

Walter M. Anderson, the founder of Andy's Market who grew a one-time corner store into a College Place destination for health-conscious consumers, died Wednesday night.

Family members say he died peacefully in his sleep in Hermiston. He was 81. Service arrangements are pending.

Known to longtime store employees as "Mr. A," Anderson built the business to serve the nutritional and dietary needs embraced by the Seventh-day Adventist community. But the operation caught on with many more loyal customers who traveled to the store at 1117 S. College Ave. from throughout the Valley for good prices on produce, bulk foods, hard-to-find supplements and personal attention from a store owner who took the time to know everyone's name.

The significance of the locally owned business was demonstrated recently when store Manager Dave Gordon, who is also Anderson's son-in-law, was introduced at a Rotary meeting. Gordon said he was stunned by the reception when people learned he was representing Andy's Market.

"I got applause," he said this morning. "It wasn't for me. The store got applause."

The demonstration was a testament to the legacy that's been built by his father-in-law, Gordon said.

When Anderson and his late wife, DeLaine, bought the business in 1968 they built the store on their spiritual convictions: God is blessing the business, and those who benefit from it have a Christian responsibility to share it with others. That came both in the form of fair pricing, Gordon said, and community donations.

Though Anderson had suffered a series of strokes several years ago that made it difficult at times to communicate, he was clear in a 2009 interview on his goal for the business: "I wanted to leave a legacy of honesty, pure and simple," he said.

His philosophies -- often known as "Waltisms -- grew from there. Among them: The customer is always right; you get what you pay for; lower prices will bring more people through the door.

Quality was an especially important factor to Anderson. Gordon recalled one occasion when Anderson called for him over the store intercom. He met up with his father-in-law in the produce section next to what appeared to be a bad avocado. "What are we going to do about this?" Anderson asked, chagrined.

The store and the business acumen proved to be training ground for Anderson's daughters, Lynette Gordon and Connie Burke. Both earned college money working for their parents at the store. Anderson himself had likely gained some of his own entrepreneurial spirit from his mother, Esther Anderson, who had also operated her own health food store in College Place many moons ago, Burke said.

Subsequently, Anderson's two girls developed their business acumen with influence from their father. Burke now owns Hermiston health food store Alive & Well. Her sister runs commercial embroidery business Graphic Apparel.

Burke said her father laid the groundwork for several of her business philosophies: "To treat your customers right, to do your best, to persevere and work hard," she said.

Andy's Market looked at first nothing at all like the store today.

Originally known as Ed's Market, it was in a 1,500-square-foot space farther up College Avenue. Anderson had a career as a contractor before taking over the store. He was in the middle of constructing a church in La Grande when the opportunity to buy a store presented itself. He jumped at the chance.

In 1974 the business moved to its current spot in what was then known as Village Square. The larger location -- expanded over the years to include 10,000 square feet of storage space -- allowed the business to grow. Anderson became the first in the area -- possibly in the region -- to introduce bulk foods. The dry goods were displayed in square bins.

Loyal customers had seen less of Anderson in recent years. While recovering from his strokes, the store floundered under different management, family members and employees have said. Employee turnover was high, and morale was low. Anderson, who had been living in Hermiston at an assisted-care facility near his daughter, began returning for weekly visits. His presence helped to turn things around. An estimated 1,400 customers visit the store daily, Gordon said.

Family members intend to continue what he built.

"He was happy," Gordon said. "He was concerned about his legacy and standing of the store in the community, so he was more than pleased to see it doing well."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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