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Star Mills has long history in Louisville

By WALTER DOERSCHUK The Press-News Published: March 16, 2017 12:00 AM
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It's a mill that has been there for 153 years. It's a mill that is still in use today by Star Mills in Louisville.

President Jason Leonard helps operate the agricultural business located at 200 Lincoln Avenue. Orginally starting as a linseed mill and flour mil, it closed for a few years. Virgil Malmsberry bought it along with Leonard's grandfather, and opened again. Leonard said that was in either 1947 or 1948.

"Business for us was pretty slow when they first opened back up and got back in here," Leonard said. "Things started to turn around and business got busier."

Leonard explained his grandfather helped run a portable feed truck. He said Buttermore would often leave at 4 or 5 a.m. and travel from farm to farm to grind beef for customers.

"He liked to work," Leonard said. "He didn't want to be sitting behind the desk, do orders and stuff like that. I think that portable helped business wise."

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During that time period, "everybody had something," Leonard explained. Nearly everyone milked a cow. When Leonard started in 1988, he said a lot of farmers were still milling cows. Since then, that has slowed down.

The last few years, Leonard said, the farming business has changed as a whole.

"A lot of guys don't exist any more, are out of business or retired," he said. "A lot of what our stuff is now is your local people as far as guys that get a few head of beef, some chickens, laying chicken."

Technology has also played a factor. Leonard said because just about anything can be purchased online, a lot of people would rather do that than go to the store. Big box stores have additionally affected the industry.

"They can sell things so much cheaper than what somebody like me can because they can buy it in such quantity and pass the savings on to the customer," Leonard said. "We're lucky enough to be in a town that's small enough. We don't have a lot here, so your options as far where you are going to get things are kind of limited unless you drive to Alliance or Canton. Any more, you've got to be a little bit diverse. You've got to reach out and try a couple different things."

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Star Mills has diversified its business over the last few years. Leonard said his business has gotten into deer feed for hunters, and it makes its own deer mix. It also sells a lot of dog food, bird feed and safety salt.

Leonard said every day is different at the mill. Mornings typically involve preparing and packaging custom orders. A lot of walk-in customers visit the store to buy dog food or cat food. Some of the customers are ones who used to deal with Leonard's grandfather.

During some days, two to three batches of feed might be made. Other days might see 10 batches made. There are also some days where repairs need to be made because of the age of the equipment.

"There's a lot people that live in this town that don't even know that we're here," Leonard said. "I don't know whether they drive by and see this little brick building and they're not sure what it is or what we carry. You have people go I didn't know you sold bird feeder. I didn't know you had dog food."

Leonard re-emphasized the reality that the agricultural industry faces.

"I don't see a future as far as this business," he said. "I think eventually down the road, the big box stores are going to swallow us all up. There won't be anything left. Hopefully that doesn't happen for some time but you don't know. It's changed every year. I've been here since 1988, and every year it's been something a little different. You kind of start to see the writing on the wall year after year. You get less and less and less. I think like most small mills like us, we're all kind of struggling to survive. It'd be nice to say 20 years from now, we'll still be here and still going strong. I don't know. Every year is a challenge."

He added the changes are "very disappointing."

"People don't realize the farming industry as a whole, the feed industry as a whole its what we all need to survive," Leonard said. "You go to the grocery store and buy all your groceries, that's where all your stuff comes from. I don't think, generally people think too much about that. They go to the stores and at the stores, they buy. Hopefully, eventually we won't see a time where things are hard to buy because there's a lack of people growing things. I know you can import this and you can import that. To be able to buy it locally, and to know it came from a local farm, that to me is very important. I like to know where all my stuff comes from. If I buy meet at the store I don't want it to come from a foreign country."


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