Colorful era ends at RossWhether they came for the coffee, the conversation or a can of paint, visitors to Ross Paint Store knew they were more than a number. “We really don’t have customers, we have friends,” said Mary Ann Ross, who started the business with her husband Harry 35 years ago. “They’re all friends.”
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Whether they came for the coffee, the conversation or a can of paint, visitors to Ross Paint Store knew they were more than a number.
“We really don’t have customers, we have friends,” said Mary Ann Ross, who started the business with her husband Harry 35 years ago. “They’re all friends.”
The family offered top notch service and quality Benjamin Moore paint.
“We never had a sales pitch,” Mary Ann said, but they always offered advice.
When Harry died in 1991, Mary Ann and their son, Jim, kept the business going.
“His words were, ‘You and Jim can do it and when you can’t make a living, get rid of it,’” Mary Ann said.
Friday, the business closed. Mary Ann will still be at the store from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays through June to sell off the last of the stock, although she’ll retire the 32-cup coffee maker in favor of a smaller pot.
Friends dropped by Friday to buy paint and reminisce. Ross Paint Store was a piece of an earlier age, they said, where charge accounts and trust went hand in hand and custom colors were mixed by hand instead of by a computer. It’s the kind of shop where a customer can return an unused can of paint and pick up a new one months later. And yes, they delivered on Sundays.
“We tried to give them service no one else can,” Jim said.
The shop is a time capsule of sorts. Many of the items — from an old cash register and package wrapping station to bags and envelopes stamped “Roth’s,” came directly from Roth Bros. Department Store. Harry worked at Roth Bros. for years, moving up from salesman to paint department manager. When Roth’s closed, he bought out the painting department and opened his own store.
“I’ve had a charge account (here) since I was 16 years old,” said Scott Johnson, who owns Northwoods Music, located in the same building Ross Paint Store started in. He remembered the days when Harry, a quiet man, would set a Ross Paint cap on his head after mixing him up a few gallons of paint. Johnson said he walked into a Sherwin-Williams dealer the other day and felt like he was betraying the business.
For 15 years, Mark Fitzgerald has been a customer at Ross.
“It’s the only place where I can get a can of paint with a muffin on top,” he said. Mary Ann’s baked goods, those gathered agreed, are wonderful.
“We can mix pies, we can mix paints,” Jim said.
His mother said she only makes each recipe once, but that’s not the way they mix paint. Jim has cards detailing the exact mixes of each custom color the business has made for folks. They plan to keep the cards on file if people need them.
Superior businessman Don Leighton said a planned 15-minute trip to Ross Paint Store would turn into an hour discussion about baseball, town happenings or “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“Now there is one less place where you can go for great conversation and a smile when entering and leaving after your purchase,” Leighton said. “Jim and Mary Ann took care of their customers, but most importantly had fun doing their job.”
“We’re going to miss Ross Paints big time,” Fitzgerald said.
Family friend Jerry Morello said it’s a sign of the times, as mom and pop businesses lose ground to big box stores. The Ross’s declined to say why they decided to close the shop. It’s been a good town to be in, they said, but the economy has changed over the years. The number of local painters has dwindled, and some bigger contracts have dried up.
“It’s just time for us to go,” Mary Ann said. Jim has a seasonal job on tap. He spends his summers caring for the Superior baseball fields and coaching the Reds. As for Mary Ann?
“I just live day-to-day,” she said. “Today I’ll be here, tomorrow I’ll be here.”
The building is for sale, and items at the store are all 25 percent off. Mary Ann said she’ll be at 1402 Belknap St. until it’s all gone. They will be missed, customers said.
“I bid you adieu with a gallon of custom paint,” Fitzgerald said, lifting the can in a toast with a muffin in his other hand.