Cover photo: Jon Goodwin is a third generation owner of Waldo Grain Co. Photo by Kathy Feist
Waldo Grain Co: from rural feed store to urban pet and seed store
By Jill Draper
Waldo Grain Co. stands out as a throwback to another time, a red wooden barn that sits close to the shoulder of a busy stretch of Wornall Road at 78th Street. Built in 1926 as a country feed store, the barn’s first neighbors were Croner’s grocery and a blacksmith shop.
Its original location on 75th Terrace dates back even earlier. Harry Frey started the business with a cousin before heading to France during World War I, says Jon Goodwin, his grandson. Once overseas, Frey served as a mule train driver, delivering supplies to soldiers in the trenches.
A local banker acquired the business and moved it a few blocks south to its current location, but Frey eventually bought it back after returning home. He and his wife Myrtle (she did the bookkeeping) ran the store for years, serving farmers who would ride into town from as far south as 250th Street and commuters who would hitch their horses nearby to catch the streetcar to the Plaza or downtown—an early “park and ride,” says Goodwin.
At some point, probably in the 1930s, Frey allowed movies to be shown on the side of the barn, but he had to issue a stern warning: no more entertainment if folks did not quit stealing his chickens that roamed on the property.
These days the business is owned by Goodwin and his brother, Kurt, and the only animal on the premises is a formerly-stray cat, Schyler, who’s in charge of rodent control. The business has changed from a rural feed store to a pet food and gardening store, but a recent uptick in raising urban chickens has influenced their sales. “It’s like we’ve come full circle,” Goodwin says. “There’ll be some days when I have five straight customers buying chicken feed.”
He remembers climbing on stacks of feed as a young boy while his grandfather waited on customers. Now he’s the one greeting people and carrying chicken feed, dog kibbles and bird seed to their car trunks.
“Many generations shop here,” he says. “We know them and we know their families. This area likes independently-owned businesses.”
Goodwin lives in the Bridlespur neighborhood of south Kansas City. He worked as a teacher for a short time before switching to full-time at the store in 1990. Conditions remain rustic—the barn has survived a fire or two and suffers occasional leaks when it rains (he keeps four buckets handy to catch drips). The only room with heat and air is a small corner office.
Sales at the grain company, described as Waldo’s longest continually operating business, are distinctly seasonal, according to Goodwin. In spring and fall he sells grass seed, fertilizer and soil amendments like cotton burr compost, peat moss, pelletized limestone and gypsum. Flower seeds are mostly sold in packets and vegetable seeds can be purchased by the dip from drawers in an old wooden cabinet. Wild bird seed sells well in winter, and some customers take home 50-pound sacks of raw peanuts for cardinals and woodpeckers.
Goodwin also sells finch seed by the dip, and credits his grandfather, along with radio personality Toby Tobin, with introducing finch feeders to Kansas City. “That’s the story I was told,” he says.
In addition to dog and cat food, Goodwin offers a variety of pet treats, collars, toys and accessories. Others buy food for koi fish, rabbits or wild “pets” like squirrels, chipmunks and deer.
In the quiet time between customers, Goodwin sometimes wonders if his grandfather would be surprised to learn the business he started is going on its 105th year. He wonders what his experience was like in France during WWI and the deadly 1918 flu pandemic. And how about all these city chickens—would he ever have thought raising chickens would become so popular again?
Goodwin especially would like to tell him thanks. “He provided a business that enabled a divorced mother of three little boys in the 1960s to survive and to raise them all to graduate college, raise families of their own and continue his business past the 100-year mark with pride. His was truly the early American dream!”