(Dec. 8) DOVER, Fla. — Ted Lombardi wishes he could retire on a happier note.

But next spring, when the winter strawberry season is over, the sales manager for Walden-Sparkman Inc. will end a memorable 25-year stint at one of the state’s oldest vegetable brokers as it closes its doors.

“I’m sorry to see this close up,” Lombardi said. “I would have liked to retire and keep this thing going.”

After two years of tough market conditions, Lombardi and former general manager Leroy English, the princi-pal stockholder in the business, made the decision to close.

Lombardi said the eventual intent is to sell the property.

Most of the Plant City-area growers that sold to Walden-Sparkman have made agreements with other shippers, including C&D Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc., Bradenton, which is leasing cold storage and labor through June in Walden-Sparkman’s three-building Dover facility that sits on a little more than five acres.

Seventeen of Walden-Sparkman’s 22 full-time employees have moved on to other jobs and five remain to oper-ate the facility under the agreement with C&D.

Former Walden-Sparkman salesman Frank Lombardi, Ted’s son, has joined C&D and will head Plant City op-erations from the Walden-Sparkman packinghouse.

The decision to liquidate ends Walden-Sparkman’s run as one of the state’s longest-operating packinghouses. It has long been a shipper of strawberries, peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupes and eggplant.

Dating back to the 1920s, the company originally operated as Dover Growers Cooperative and later was named Gallagher & Walden when P.D. “Duke” Walden and John Gallagher ran the business. After Gallagher’s death in the late 1950s, Walden and W.B. Sparkman formed a partnership and incorporated under Walden-Sparkman Inc.

English became a partner in the mid-1960s and his son, Rodney, who is now president of Walden-Sparkman, came into the organization in 1975.

Ted and Ray Lombardi — Ted’s brother — joined the company three years later. Ray was in charge of sales at Walden-Sparkman’s Pompano Beach operation, which recently closed.