Local Store Celebrates 35 Years of Deals, Discounts & Dedication
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
Considering Richard’s of Toto has become a premier discount shopping destination in the midwest, it might be hard to believe that the store was founded quite by chance three and a half decades ago.
In the early 1980s, Valparaiso native Ed Ebner was working as a builder and learned of a property on South Range Road in North Judson (technically it sits in the unincorporated community of Toto) that had been heavily damaged by fire and was on the market.
“I had a rug installer that I worked with and his brother owned the building,” Ebner recalls. “It was offered to me and a partner of mine named Richard Hazelton, which is where the name of the store comes from.”
Hazelton was a long-time friend of Ebner and his family and felt the building was well-suited to become a discount store. Ironically enough, it was during the fire restoration and repair process that the two realized just how ideal the spot was for such a business.
“People would stop by while we were doing the reconstruction work and offer to buy the equipment we were using for the repair work,” Ebner says with a laugh. “I realized that I’d been in the building business a long time and that maybe I could start selling a lot of the things I had used over the years myself and things I had in storage. It all sold, and a lightbulb went off for me that we could do well selling all kinds of things at good prices.”
And that’s precisely the concept Ebner has stuck with to this very day. He still travels around the country sourcing discount inventory — everything from furniture, office supplies, toys and seasonal items like Christmas decorations, to hardware, cleaning products and automotive parts.
“There was no great plan — it was just a matter of buying our products at a good price and selling them at a markup that is still a fair price for the customer,” Ebner explains. “It was a small business at the start and it just took off. I’ve gotten more refined at buying and reselling, and our business now has 31 employees and sells everything you can think of.”
A year and a half after opening, Ebner decided to add a small cafe inside the store, after having to turn away countless customers who would ask where the nearest restaurant was.
“Since we’re kind of in the middle of nowhere, I’d always have to send them out of town,” he says. “We thought we should do something about that. We started with a tiny, 16-seat cafe with hamburgers.”
The Cafe Toto menu has grown through the years to include American-style breakfast, lunch and dinner items, including soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, pulled pork, beef brisket, homemade chili and six different pie flavors for dessert.
Anyone who’s driven by Richard’s of Toto has seen the 30-foot Native American statue standing sentinel out front, which Ebner acquired in 2001 in Michigan City. It’s become synonymous with the store, and like Richard’s of Toto itself, the statue has seen its share of challenges, including damage from a store fire in 2002 and vandalism that took one of its arms in 2015. Like the store, it’s weathered many storms and is still standing strong.
“There are just a few around the country,” Ebner says of the statue. “They used to be in car dealers and muffler businesses, and it’s known as Muffler Man. There have been thousands of pictures taken of it. I can’t imagine us without it.”
Ebner feels there’s been no secret formula to his long-term success and points instead to a simple process of finding strong deals on the buying end, combined with honest, reasonable markups on the reselling side. And it’s a winning approach — he says 80% of his sales are from repeat shoppers, and he gets regular customers appearing every single day.
“My dad suggested that I mark things up enough to make some money and stay in business, but let the customer have a bargain,” he says. “That’s the way we’ve priced things from the first day. Also, I probably have some of the best customers this country’s ever had. They’ve given me a lot of encouragement, and it’s been a great experience.”
Richard’s of Toto is located at 3060 South Range Road in North Judson. Call 574-772-5923 or go to richardsoftoto.com for more information.