Cross credits business legacy to adaptability, service
Sandra “Sandy” Cross refers to her family business as a gift — one that she’s taken precious care of as it has transitioned into the next generation.
The Cross family legacy dates back to the mid 1800s when John and Elizabeth Cross moved to North Keys in Prince George’s County. There, they raised 11 children. Among them was George who eventually moved with his wife Hattie to the current Cross family farm which has been in operation since 1902.
Like most Southern Maryland farm families, the Crosses grew tobacco and earned a reputation for producing a fine crop. In the 1920s, Cross brothers Russell and Louis, were approached by the Maryland Tobacco Growers Association about becoming transfer tobacco buyers for area farmers who lacked local markets for selling tobacco.
“Russell and Louis were really innovative,” Sandy Cross said. “They provided a service to farmers. Most people in the area were still on horse and buggy and they had no way to get to Baltimore.”
Local farms brought their tobacco crop to the Cross brothers who packed and transported the crops to the Baltimore tobacco warehouse. Louis oversaw sale of the crops on the auction floor.
The brother’s business, then called R&L Cross, included a small store that carried Farm Bureau Open Formula Feed and Ober Fertilizer, and sold coal. In 1935, Russell and Louis were offered a Southern States Cooperative franchise and began to expand the store’s inventory and services.
The business continued to grow throughout the ’40’s and ’50s and in the early 1960’s, Russell’s son David joined the farm and business, which became R&D Cross.
David and Sandra Cross married in 1962, eventually inheriting the business, and raised three children on the family farm: David Jr., Michael and Susan. In 1986, the family business was incorporated as R&D Cross, Inc. with Sandy as president.
“We’ve been so blessed,” Sandy said. “All of the children and now grandchildren have worked in the store at one point or another.”
David Sr. retired in 1999 and died in 2011 at age 75.
The store was passed on to David Jr. who manages R & D Cross today, along with his son, Kody, who works as assistant manager.
“David Jr. was drawn to the store like a magnet and he’s exponentially increased the business,” Sandy said. “It’s a credit to his good judgement and ability to anticipate things.”
Susan also works in the family business, and is the vice president of R&D Cross, overseeing human resources and insurance benefits for the store’s 20-plus employees. Michael, a career fire fighter, worked on the farm and for the family business.
Michael, a career firefighter, also worked on the farm and for the family business.
He continues to stay involved in agriculture as does his wife, Jennifer, who serves as the secretary for the Prince George’s County Farm Bureau and represents the Maryland Farm Bureau on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Women’s Leadership Committee. Jennifer is a LEAD Maryland Alumni and also volunteers with Common Ground, an organization that helps shape conversations about farm and food issues with the public.
Brothers, David Jr. and Michael both live on the family farm with their own families.
“My husband left me with many good memories and I’m sure he’d be proud as punch to see these kids continuing his spirit,” Sandy said.
Earlier this year, the Cross family was inducted into the Maryland Governor’s Agriculture Hall of Fame— the 53rd inductee and third family from Prince George’s County to receive the honor.
“You never look at yourself and think you’re quite that special,” Sandy said. “I’m so proud of family. It’s like I believe in Santa Claus. To see this little business grow like it has is incredible and it’s because of the knowledge and people around us to have made it what it is today.”
And while R&D Cross has grown and changed over its more than 90-year history, Sandy said that a commitment to customer service has remained the same.
David Jr. said from a young age, his parents instilled customer service as a mindset.
“Between her and my father, they had rules as parents and as business owners. Things like making sure things were neat and clean — not just on the farm but in the store — and a focus on customer service and treating people the way we’d want to be treated,” David Jr. said. “That mindset and those principles have helped us get to where we are today and a lot of that had to do with mom.”
In addition to the goods and services people can buy from the store, R&D Cross is a center for community activity and education about agriculture. And a place where many young people have gotten a start in their future careers.
“We’ve had such a special set of employees over the years. Training is important and we make sure that our employees are trained in safety and customer service. Service is what we offer — you can’t get this kind of service and knowledge in a big box store,” Sandy said.
The Agriculture Hall of Fame award comes in a year that has brought many challenges for many businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As an essential business, R&D Cross continued to operate.
David Jr. credits his son and twin daughters along with his other employees for the vision and leadership to adapt with curbside service and online sales.
“We happened to be the place people wanted to come to get out of their homes and buy things for their yard or chickens for their backyard — things they didn’t think about before the pandemic. Yes, it was challenging but it was a great opportunity and turned out to be our best year yet,” David Jr. said..
“Seldom have we had hurdles that we couldn’t overcome,” Sandy said. “I am thankful that God has watched over us and given us what we needed for ourselves and our community. We’ve been able to adapt to become what we are today — whatever is out there, we’ve been able to adjust to it and bring it in.”
And while the family business has been a central part of Sandy’s life, she’s also made time to pursue things off the farm.
For 15 years, Sandy worked as the secretary of the Prince George’s County Historical Society, pursuing a passion for genealogy. She has compiled most of the Cross family history, still searching for missing details about the family’s legacy.
Sandy has also devoted more than 60 years of volunteer service as an organist for her two home churches in Prince George’s County.
“It feels funny being the matriarch,” Sandy said. “I’m still not used to playing this role but the kids are well-versed in the business and now I’m moreso watching what’s going on.”
“I am so proud and so blessed that David [Sr.]’s family was instrumental in this facet of agriculture. My heart hasn’t gotten back into place yet thinking about how we’ve evolved and been able to make the farm not only profitable but serviceable,” Sandy said.