Kaufman Seeds, 68-year fixture in Ashdown, closing
Updated: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 3:18 PM
By ERIC NICHOLSON
Texarkana Gazette via Associated Press
ASHDOWN, Ark. (AP) -- Ashdown's Kaufman Seeds has been a fixture in the city's downtown for 68 years, but the owner of the business wants time to stop and smell the roses.
John Hearn has run the company for more than 20 years but says Wednesday will be the final day of operation.
He said the decision was prompted by his diagnosis in March with cancer.
"When the kids went off to college, I just didn't see them much," Hearn said. "When I was diagnosed with cancer, it threw things into a new light. . It changed my thinking: If I could beat that, I would retire."
Hearn underwent surgery in mid-July at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and, earlier this month, doctors told him they thought they had gotten everything.
He announced recently that Kaufman Seeds would permanently close. He plans to use the free time to travel to visit his three grown children and two grandchildren.
Kaufman Seeds was founded in 1943 by Henry Kaufman, a German Jew working as a cotton broker in Italy who fled the country just days before he would have been deported back to Nazi Germany.
Work as a cotton buyer led him to Dallas, then Ashdown, where he settled just as production of the once-dominant crop was collapsing in Southwest Arkansas. As work as a cotton broker evaporated, he turned to seeds.
During his first year, he turned a $700 profit, which doubled the second year and continued to expand. By the end of the decade, Kaufman Seeds had offices and two warehouses in downtown Ashdown.
Hearn grew up in Jackson, Tenn., a city of about 50,000 that offered little by way of an agricultural education when he began working as a cotton buyer in Memphis. After he married in 1970, his brother-in-law introduced him to Kaufman.
Kaufman's two daughters weren't interested in carrying on his work in the seed business, and he was looking for an apprentice of sorts to learn and eventually take over the business.
Hearn eventually agreed and moved to Ashdown, where he said he had a lot to learn.
"I didn't know a wheat seed from a rice seed when I started," he said.
It was 20 years before Kaufman stepped down and Hearn purchased the business.
Since then, the company has doubled its sales, said Phyllis Hearn, John's wife. Last year, it shipped seeds to 29 states as well as China, Japan and Europe, but most of its business is done as a seed wholesaler for the Four State Area.
Retired state Sen. Barbara Horn stopped by to inquire after Hearn's health. Phyllis took her through the miniature museum that was being set up on one side of the office.
"Whenever anybody had a baby, they would come weigh them on the scale here," Phyllis said, pointing to an enormous mechanical scale.
In Warehouse No. 1, James "Son" Walton was helping clean the wheat. He joined his father at Kaufman Seeds 60 years ago when he was 14, working nights and weekends.
"I'd like to see it reopen, because it's part of Ashdown," he said. "It's more part of Ashdown than any other business I know."
A rebirth, however, is unlikely. Kaufman Seeds is profitable and does a respectable amount of business, but, given its modest size and the down economy, Hearn said it would be difficult to sell.
He expects to have a few bags of leftover seed that he will keep in storage to sell in the spring, but regular business operations will end Wednesday, when its 11 employees are let go.
"It's sad in a way, but I'm ready," said bookkeeper Dorothy Johnson, who has been with the company for 34 years. "I'm 75, and it's time to go home."
Information from: Texarkana Gazette, http://www.texarkanagazette.com
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.