Alan Anderson lived in a world of elegance and sparkles but always tried to stay grounded and dwell in simplicity.
Anderson ran three Anderson’s China shops, including one that was a landmark on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. He died Oct. 17 at age 96.
When not roaming the sales floor in his trademark bow-tie, Anderson chopped firewood by the cord, stuffed his 6-foot-3 frame into a fuel-efficient compact car and dedicated his time to several nonprofits. And he was always delighted when a customer who came in search of a Herend or Wedgwood treasure went home with a copy of “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered,” which he kept on display in the stores.
“He believed that you shouldn’t waste and that you should live gently on the Earth,” said daughter Jane Howard.
Anderson was born March 6, 1920, at Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis, attended the Blake School and then went to Harvard for college and business school. He went into the Army during World War II and, when he returned, Anderson took over the family business.
Anderson’s China specialized in fine china, crystal, glassware, silver and home furnishings, and was a destination for thousands of couples who used the bridal registry. In the mid-1950s, Anderson opened a second store in Southdale Center in Edina, one of the original tenants in the nation’s first indoor shopping mall. In 1975, Anderson opened a third store in Wayzata.
By the early 1990s, Anderson sensed the retail world was changing. A Crate and Barrel store had opened across from his Southdale store, and it was obvious that people weren’t giving the kinds of heirloom wedding gifts they once did, or collecting the way their parents did. In 1994, at age 74, he liquidated the business and retired.
He had plenty of other things to do. His intellectual curiosity ran deep, especially for history, theology, politics, global population balance and philosophy. He was involved in several local associations for professional and social causes, including retailing and mental health. He also served for three terms as chairman of World Population Balance, a nonprofit group focused on overpopulation. He was close to the group’s founder, David Paxson, who said that Anderson helped keep the organization moving forward.
“He was constantly my rudder, helping me to stay focused,” Paxson said. “He had a vision that was amazing to me with regards to things that are happening on the planet.”
Anderson was also a longtime board member at the Lakewinds Food Co-op. “I find the co-op’s economic principles, as they are followed at Lakewinds, much better than those of widespread unbridled capitalism,” he once said.
Anderson was also a fierce tennis competitor, a fearless mountain skier and a runner who started when he was 60, eventually finishing nine marathons. He made several trips to Europe and an adventure to Borneo when he was in his 80s. His family spent summers at a lakeside cabin on Madeline Island that he and his wife, Helen, bought in 1953.
Anderson never took any of these privileges for granted, especially his 69-year marriage to Helen. “The greatest gift to me was and is my wife, Helen,” he told his children.
In the last months of their life together, the couple often acknowledged their good fortune, said Helen Anderson. “We’d look at each other and say ‘How could we be so lucky?’” she said.
Anderson was preceded in death by daughter Martha Anderson Ireland. In addition to Howard, Anderson is survived by son Wells, and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Services are private.