By Roger Bell, Editor
DINWIDDIE – There was a time when Ragsdale Building Supply nearly closed its doors for good.
“When we were in ’08-’09, and our friends were closing their doors, it makes you think twice about what you’re doing,” says Charlotte Ragsdale, owner and president of Ragsdale Building Supply, which is celebrating 45 years of business this year. “When businesses that have been open longer than you are closing for good, it makes you wonder if you’ll have to make that ugly decision too.”
Times were tough, but Ragsdale didn’t want to lay off any of her employees. If someone left during this time, she didn’t replace them, but she wasn’t going to send anyone home while the store was operating.
“I love my staff,” Ragsdale said. “Sometimes they drive me crazy, but I love them.”
To avoid layoffs, Ragsdale poured her own personal savings into the store, and the decision appears to have paid off.
“We’re still here,” Ragsdale said. “Through all types of economies, we’re still here.”
The business was started by her father, Robert G. Ragsdale, who held a soft opening of the store at its current location at 8511 Boydton Plank Road in North Dinwiddie in 1971. The grand opening was held in 1972.
Charlotte, a self-professed “Daddy’s girl,” came to work with her Dad in 1986, while her mother, Betty S. Ragsdale, worked out of a real estate office Robert built on the front lawn of the store that still stands today.
Tragically, Robert and Betty were killed in an auto accident on August 16, 2005, mere days before their 50th wedding anniversary.
“It left a big hole,” Ragsdale said. “I’d worked side-by-side with my Dad for 20 years. I think it left a big hole for a lot of people.”
Ragsdale was already running the business by this point, however, having purchased the store from her Dad in 2001 after Ragsdale decided she wanted to make the store her career.
“I had grown up in construction all my life,” Ragsdale said. “Dad and the customers sort of helped me navigate my way through the business.”
Ragsdale continued to run the store after her parents’ passing and continued their spirit of community involvement. The Community Center named after her parents, on land she donated, opened May 2.
In addition to things like the Community Center, Ragsdale said local businesses such as hers offer the community much more than “box stores” can.
“Box stores have their place,” Ragsdale said. “It easy to get caught up in the big store mentality and bypass local businesses but local businesses are the heart of your community. I’m not saying that about Ragsdale, I’m saying that about all local businesses.”
With her store in particular, with its 13 employees, Ragsdale, who has no children of her own but looks at her workers as family along with her actual husband, farmer Mack Butterworth, said the store is in a position to build personal relationships with its customers, and offer services the big stores can’t.
Those services can range anywhere from personal advice on a home project to big deliveries for commercial customers. It’s a community-minded business model Ragsdale helped to survive the passing of the business’ founder and, she said, she hopes continues far beyond this year’s 45th anniversary celebrations.
“I feel good about Ragsdale Building Supply,” Ragsdale said. “I feel good about the community. I feel good about the economy. We have good reason to celebrate. I enjoy what I do, our customers are fantastic. So many people, when I said we were celebrating our 45th, asked what they could do for me, but it doesn’t work like that. It’s nice, though to have that kind of relationship with our customers and this community. I don’t believe you can have that kind of relationship with a big store.”
As for the future of the store, Ragsdale said she just wants to keep it going.
“We’re celebrating 45 and looking forward to the next 45,” Ragsdale said. “I can’t say Ragsdale will be here forever. You never know what the future holds, but that’s what makes 45 such a big deal.”