Children close book on Ludwig family carpet business

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 6, 2014

SPENCER — Tuesday night, as evening fell over Spencer, two of Wayne and Judy Ludwig’s children were back at the building that housed their family’s business, Ludwig’s Linoleum and Carpet, for almost 40 years.
Everything was still there, more or less.
The books of carpet and tile samples were on their racks.
Rolls of carpet and shelves of cleaning products stood waiting for customers to take them home.
But this is the last chapter in the story that began when Wayne Ludwig opened his company in 1966, after several years of working in the trade.
Wayne, and the crews who worked for him, installed the flooring. His wife, Judy, kept records, took measurements and helped customers pick out flooring and wallpaper.
After Wayne died in 2001, Judy ran the business for 13 more years — and had been at work on the day she passed away, in December, her daughters said.
Today, their three daughters — Darlene Peterson, Lynn Ludwig and Wynn Snider — see the rewards of their parents’ hard work in their lives.
“Dad had an eighth-grade education, and Mom quit, I think, in the ninth grade,” Peterson said. “They paid for three daughters to go to college.”
Today, all three have successful careers of their own.
What they don’t have, they said, is the knowledge to take over the family business.
And so, for several weeks now, they have gone through the process of cleaning out the shop and pricing all the flooring materials, supplies and tools left behind.
Saturday, starting at 9 a.m., they’re holding a cash-only sale at the store to liquidate what’s left, plus four vehicles — two work trucks, a passenger van and a passenger car.
It’s a bittersweet day, they say, because they know what it took to build that business, and how much of themselves their parents put into what they did.
Wayne Ludwig met his future wife when they were teenagers, Snider said.
After working at several jobs, Peterson said, he started working for Allied Tile in Salisbury, “and that’s how he learned to lay floors.”
A few years later, about 1963, Wayne started doing some flooring jobs on the side.
“My parents had a basement, and he would order the carpet or linoleum and put it in the basement until they were ready for him to put it in,” Peterson said.
When the Ludwigs started their own company three years later, they built a cement-block building next to their home in Davidson County.
They followed that with two more buildings of the same kind.
One example of their father’s careful planning, Peterson said, was that all three buildings had big picture windows.
When the business moved to its final location on Fourth Street in the 1970s, she said, those three buildings could be converted into rental properties.
“My Dad quit school in the eighth grade, but he was so smart,” Peterson said.
Inside the showroom, Snider and Lynn Ludwig said their father was a talented craftsman who did a lot of the work on the business himself, including installing lighting.
Before long, they said, the business was growing to the point where Wayne had to hire men to work with him on jobs.
“He wanted to work for himself,” Snider said.
Though their business was successful, it was still hard work to keep the family running.
In addition to raising three daughters and helping with her husband’s business, Judy also helped work a large vegetable garden, her daughters said.
And all three remember how hard their parents worked.
“We all ate together, and we would wait for our Dad to get home,” Lynn Ludwig said. “Sometimes he would leave after supper, go out and finish working.”
Peterson said that, when business was very heavy — when Eagle Heights and other housing developments in Salisbury were being built in the 1970s – their father “would work days on end.”
“He worked very, very hard to get that business established, and he was good at it,” Peterson said.
All three daughters said that hard work was part of their parents’ character.
“There’s a part of us that says our Dad worked himself to death, and Mom was working even when we wanted her to be out doing other things,” Lynn Ludwig said.
But, Ludwig added, they were happiest when they were working.
Jokingly, Wayne used to tell his family that his dream job would be to be one of the people who mowed the grass on the side of Interstate 85.
“He loved being outside, and mowing,” Peterson said. “He was always outside, you couldn’t get him inside.”
Meanwhile, Snider said their mother would joke about one day going to sell carpet at Lowe’s.
“I always laugh, whenever we go in there,” Snider said.
“To them, retirement was never really something they talked about,” Ludwig said.
“They ran this store for us, but our Mama and Daddy, they cared about people,” Snider said.
Although the family business paid for cars when the girls got old enough to drive, and put them through college without debt, Wayne and Judy also helped others out.
Lynn Ludwig said she recalls how their parents would try to help people who couldn’t afford the cost of new flooring. “They would do it for whatever people could afford,” she said.
“She was very talented at matching colors, and helping people pick out the right type of carpet or linoleum for the area they were looking at,” Peterson said. “She was more of a people person.”
Judy Ludwig was still running the business when many of her peers had retired — and not just that, Lynn said, but doing so as much as six days a week, sometimes down on her hands and knees taking measurements.
And she had been at work at the shop on that day in December when she passed away, suddenly, due to a stroke.
“They didn’t want us to have to work like they did,” Lynn said, “but their own work ethics were so ingrained in us.”
“I look back at what they did for us, and it was the most unbelievable sacrifice,” Snider said.
Today, Peterson is a medical technician, Snider is a computer programmer and Ludwig is the lead school psychologist for Davidson County’s school system.
“I had a hard time dealing with the closing, the whole thing,” Peterson said.
“For the longest time, since my Dad passed away, I didn’t go in there very much,” she said.
When she did, Peterson said, she still expected to see her father there — that the store was so much a part of who he was.
“I’ve had so many people ask me if one of us is going to take over the business,” Peterson said. “It would be like me asking one of my kids if they’re going to work in the lab.”
“What they did was such a skill, (and) they had gained so much knowledge from all the years they did it. There is no way we could go and run that business,” Peterson said.
But even if they can’t pick up where their parents left off, they’ll always have the memories.
“To me, the smell of this store, the smell of adhesive, of new carpet, of vinyl, will always remind me of Mama and Daddy,” Snider said.
Not long after her father passed away, Snider said, her company put down new carpet at the office in Greensboro where she works.
“I busted out crying. I had to go home,” she said. “It just reminded me so much of him.”
Peterson said she remembers how her father would come home from work, “and I would feel so bad, because his black hair would be white from where he would sand floors and stuff.”
From all those years of work, the girls said they learned one very important lesson.
“Don’t let anybody ever call you lazy,” Snider said. “If you see something that needs to be done, you do it.”
“To be lazy, to him, was the worst quality anybody could ever have,” Ludwig said. “If my Dad ever called you a lazy you-know-what, that was the worst insult he could say to your face, if you knew it.”
“When I got a job,” Peterson said, “he told me, ‘Don’t ever just stand around and do nothing. If nothing else, pick up a broom and sweep.’ ”
“I can still hear him say, ‘They’re paying you to be there to work, so do something,’ ” Peterson said.
Now that they know how hard their parents worked, all three of the Ludwigs’ daughters say they are trying to do the same, and to pass those values on to the next generation.
“If it kills me, if I have to work five jobs to do it, I’m going to do the same for my kids,” Lynn Ludwig said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.