ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County was filled with horse farms, orange groves and dirt roads when Boxford Neeld first opened his feed store in 1913.
And not much had changed when it moved in 1925 to its current location at 1258 19th St. N across from Woodlawn Park. The store, now called Neeld-Gordon, flourished, selling feed, fertilizer, seeds and more ever since.
But when Richard “Rick” Golding and his partners took over in 1975, the county was changing rapidly.
A state sponsored study found that between 1973 and 1984, Pinellas County lost 45 percent of its agricultural land to development, a total of 34,000 acres.
The orange groves were disappearing and were virtually gone by the end of the century.
And in 1978, Home Depot emerged as a dominant force, eliminating many mom and pop companies, and making it harder for other local businesses like Neeld-Gordon Garden Center to compete.
“You can’t make a living selling feed,” Golding said.
So as the county changed, so did he. He turned to what he knew best: lawn mowers, having previously worked in that industry.
”We used to sell a lot of fertilizer when we first opened, but once those big box stores opened, we started noticing a decline in our sales considerably so that’s why I do lawn mower repairs."
That and selling lawn mower parts is what sustained the business after Golding and his former partners George and Peggy Coston, who have since died, took it over.
Now, the historic store will close its doors after serving the area for more than a century.
“It’s like a landmark,” said John Turner, a customer who has used Neeld-Gordon’s lawn mower services for eight years and grew up down the street.
Golding plans to retire when the store officially closes on Sept. 28 and search for a small place to continue repairing lawn mowers part-time.
He sold the property to contractors Florida Elm LLC for $460,000. Sanders Law Group is listed as the registered agent, but a spokesperson said they are not aware of their client’s plans for the property.
Golding has spent the last several weeks clearing out the nearly 10,000-square-foot space, which houses many outdated tools, supplies and antiques that can no longer be used.
Most of it is stashed behind the front, retail counter like old door knobs, or old lawn mower belts, and scores of lawn mowers kept mostly for parts.
In the front retail space most of the inventory is dissipating, but some antiques remain, like old-school Coca Cola bottles, an old Coke vending machine, and a potbelly stove, which Golding occasionally used to keep warm in the winter.
Golding said it’s finally starting to become real for him that it’s over and it’s not as easy as he thought.
“I’m going to miss working and I’m going to miss my customers," he said. “My customers are like my best friends.”
Now, his “best friends” will now have to look to other places farther north like Park Feed Store & Pet Supply in Pinellas Park, Largo Feed & Garden Supply, or Amber Glen Feed Depot, Saddlery and Pet Supplies in Pinellas Park to get their animal feed and garden supplies.
Patty Gail, the owner of Pinellas Park’s family-owned Amber Glen Feed Depot, Saddlery and Pet Supplies, said it’s unfortunate that another feed store is disappearing, but it is a sign of the times in St. Petersburg.
“There used to be a ton of horse farms in St. Pete," she said. “But as the area started to develop it was all residential.”
Amber Glen and the others benefit from more than 10 nearby horse stables and farms that constantly need feed.
Gail said Amber Glen delivers horse feed four times a week, whereas in St. Petersburg, Neeld-Gordon may sell more chicken and dog feed for pets and other smaller animals.
Amber Glen has still struggled at times and had to add online ordering and delivery to compete with larger retailers like Amazon,
But according to Gail it’s not the same as the original, old-fashioned feed stores.
“I know he’s retiring, but it’s really sad to see another feed store going away," she said.
“It used to be a thing,'' she said. "People used to go to a feed store because they had a bunch of cool stuff that you couldn’t find anywhere else, but now kids aren’t going to see that because they just get a brown box to your door.”
Contact Monique Welch at email@example.com or Follow @mo_unique_.