Employees mourn businessman Mark Anderson

A photo taken in 1991 shows Mark Anderson posing for “Hawaiian Day,” a theme day that the store took part in with local businesses and residents. The photo is part of a collage inside the store that friends and family members put together following his death. (Photo by Scott Allison)

A photo taken in 1991 shows Mark Anderson posing for “Hawaiian Day,” a theme day that the store took part in with local businesses and residents. The photo is part of a collage inside the store that friends and family members put together following his death. (Photo by Scott Allison)

Helen Hawes

Helen Hawes

Encinitas lost a special person when Mark Anderson, the owner of Anderson Stationers, died in March. He would have been 70 years old on April 17.

Anderson had pancreatic cancer, but it wasn’t diagnosed until Jan. 13. He immediately underwent chemotherapy and radiation. He worked up until Valentine’s Day and died on March 20.

In addition to mourning the loss of their friend, mentor and father figure, his employees now have to contend with another loss, because after more than 30 years, Anderson Stationers is closing.

Shelley Penza is Anderson’s niece.

“I’ve been working here on and off since I was 11 years old,” she said.

Penza said that Anderson originally bought Montgomery’s Stationers down the street in 1969, then built Anderson Stationers at its current location at 700 Second St. in 1978.

As a child, she helped Anderson with the Hallmark cards.

“I didn’t even need to get paid, it was so fun,” she said.

She said her Uncle Mark always had a smile on his face.

Jim Werth is the manager. He’s been working at the store for 30 years.

“Mark had a baritone voice. He was the only one who was allowed to call me James,” he said. “He’d call me on the intercom and say, ‘James, I have a little job for you,’ or, ‘James, can I see you in the back,’” Werth said.

He remembered the running joke they played on their employer. Every holiday, they would get promotional material and would put Anderson’s photo on all of it.

“We’d blow his head up or down and we’d put it on Cupid, a Santa Mark or a back-to-school Mark driving the bus. It was our thing and he didn’t care; we just loved it,” he said.

Anderson chose his employees with care and played to their strengths. He promoted Werth from shipping and receiving to buyer and manager. He encouraged Werth to use his skill at photography to work with artists by creating the images necessary for making prints and cards.

Michael Spratley has worked at Anderson Stationers for 18 years. He started as a temp, then Anderson bought out his contract and hired him. When Spratley told his employer the shop had to go digital, Anderson listened. Spratley became a digital expert on the fly.

“It was trial and error,” he said. After some initial training from the manufacturer, he had to figure it out. He found himself teaching the trainers things they didn’t know.

Spratley said he was dealing with Anderson’s loss by keeping busy. But he added that unlocking the door every morning was hard.

“After working with our good friend and boss and mentor and everything else, it’s been really tough,” Spratley said.

Penza and Werth blame the demise of the stationer’s store on the big-box stores. They said that Anderson had been considering closing the store for the past three years. But his illness this year helped him to make the final decision.

Closing the business means the staff will lose the support of coworkers and customers who are like friends and family.

“Our kids have all grown up together. We know everything about each other,” Penza said.

Werth said the place was special to him because when the stress of life was overwhelming, Anderson Stationers was a safety net.

“I did the same thing every day, the people were here, it was a place where I could just go ‘ahhh …’,” he said.

Penza said her uncle was positive until the end. He never complained. Even when undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, he would just say he was feeling “fair.”

Penza said customers are coming in, expressing their sympathies. She said in addition to all the people who cared about Anderson, many said he was like a father to them.

Anderson moved to the area from Minnesota with his family in 1952, according to his obituary. He graduated from San Dieguito High School in 1961.

Anderson was preceded in death by his sister, Catherine Vienna; mother, Beatrice Anderson; father, Armand “Andy” Anderson; and nephew, Scott Vienna. He is survived by his nieces, Shelley Penza and Tami Vienna; a great-niece; and a great-nephew.

A funeral was held March 28 at Eternal Hills Mortuary in Oceanside.

Anderson’s family asks that memorial donations be made to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22718 Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718.

Helen Hawes is a North County freelance writer