Anderson's of Newton has 'best school business in 50 years'

Chad Frey
The Kansan

At one of Newton downtown's oldest businesses, it is last call for school supplies in 2021. 

Anderson Book and Supply in dowtown Newton has done its best back-to-school business in 50 years.

And this summer has been good for business at Anderson Book and Supply at the corner of Broadway and Main. 

"I think this is best school business we have had in 50 or 60 years," said Phil Anderson, owner of Anderson Book and Supply. 

He keeps a tally sheet by the register, by grade and school, to keep track of how many packets have gone out the door. On aug. 10 there were nearly 400 ticks on his tally sheet, and people were still coming. A number of bags made up had names on them, waiting for pickup by those who had called in an order. 

"When you are small business, it is a lot to us," Anderson said. 

He's been there for all of those years — and more. He remembers helping his grandfather collect, clean and resell used textbooks using the back half of the store that has been on main street for 130 years.

"I have had some grandparents come in and say they remember getting supplies here," Anderson said. 

After 18 months of COVID-19 restrictions that included schools being closed for several months of 2020 followed by online only instruction taking upwards of 25 percent of Newton students out of buildings and a shorter-than-normal summer, the 2021-22 school year has arrived. 

And with it, a social media buzz surrounding Anderson's that started last week with a mother posting to a community group about her experience getting school supplies at Anderson's. 

"The moms and grandmas that have done this, they have said, if it is their first year, that they will back," Anderson said. "... The school thing gets better for us every year. They love it."

For decades the store downtown has done what Anderson said is his best way to compete with big box stores: print off school supply lists and packing brown grocery bags full of what is on those lists. Employees then total the cost and subtract a discount for parents buying exactly what is in the sack.

There will be a few bags left, and those will be available for about a week. Anderson does not expect to sell those bags after school officially starts, but he will be prepared if need be. 

Anderson said the back-to-school push started with his grandfather. 

"My grandfather, the founder, from the side door on would clear off all the counters. It was my job as a kid to clean the used textbooks. We bought books back at the end of the year, cleaned them up and resold them," Anderson said. "That was the most profitable item in the store. I grew up with that."