Reed & Cross Plans to Keep Fit by Branching Out

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), March 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

Reed & Cross Plans to Keep Fit by Branching Out


Byline: KIMBER WILLIAMS The Register-Guard

BROWSING IS AN ART form at Reed & Cross, a homegrown Eugene department store as renowned for its eclectic mix of merchandise as its for elegance.

A store where you're expected to look, to linger and chat.

Limoge boxes. Tiffany lamps ... Here, a spray of potted orchids. There, stained glass windows in artfully weathered frames dangle from the ceiling like a perfectly placed afterthought.

Villeroy and Boch china. Designer birdhouses ... Gourmet goodies and hip jewelry, bridal gowns and cashmere sweaters. Framed art prints that splatter the walls like a gallery.

And yet, to visit this long-standing family-owned business is to understand that it's not just the luxurious assortment of merchandise that keeps customers coming back. It's the people - a meet-and-greet, see-and-be-seen sensibility. A social cachet and town square quality that shapes the ambience here as much as the soothing music, flowers and beautiful furnishings.

People make the place

Long before there was the distinctive Reed & Cross atmosphere - something family members consider an ongoing "work in progress" - there were the people behind it.

"This is very much a community place," said Ralph Robinson, the 76-year-old family patriarch, president and retail merchandising veteran whose hand still very much guides daily operations at the store he runs with the talents of his two children, Jeff and Jan Robinson.

"Our employees kind of feel like this is their store - we have the best people working for us - and our customers truly have as much say here as anyone. It's a people store."

Drop in on a typical midweek afternoon, and that much seems clear. Throughout the maze of departments, a pleasant conversational hum all but muffles the soothing mood music. Laughter erupts from a regular coffee klatch at "Of Grape and Grain," a popular in-store cafe. Sometimes, it's impossible to tell employees from their customers - the conversations are so chummy, the greetings that genuine.

"I always say that you don't NEED anything at Reed & Cross, but there are so many things here that add to the quality of your life," laughed Jan Robinson, who left a successful career in human relations work in Portland to work beside her father and brother, as vice president of merchandising.

Jeff Robinson dashes up the stairs to the store's second-floor offices with the latest report from out back, a project that promises to add even more variety to the mix.

From nursery to spa

The nursery plots that once defined the very history of this store have been razed. In keeping with the trendy times, the Reed & Cross gardening focus is shifting to a smaller-scale urban gardening approach for porch, patio and deck.

"For people who want that feeling of life right there with them, but don't have the space to devote to huge projects of a full-scale English garden," Jan Robinson said.

In its place, the Robinsons move into a new phase of expansion, joining forces with another long-standing family-owned local business, Oakway Fitness Center of Eugene, to develop a $2 million building that will house a health club/spa to be opened in August.

"You grow your business or you die," said Jeff Robinson, who left a career with Price Waterhouse in Salt Lake City about 14 years ago to serve as general manager of Reed & Cross, which will have a 51 percent share of the new fitness center.

"Besides, Dad's a frustrated backhoe operator," he joked.

Actually, Ralph Robinson is someone who simply loves the world of retail and all that radiates out from it.

It is a profession, he chuckles, that he comes to almost genetically. (His maternal and paternal grandfathers once owned competing general stores located directly across the street from one another in Utah.)

"There was a time when I thought I was actually going to be an accountant," Ralph Robinson said. …

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