Anwar Dudley has been called Antoine, Andre and a host of other names that start with the letter A, when people can’t recall his name — despite the fact that his orange apron at The Home Depot boldly declares “Anwar” in black permanent marker.
“So I always tell people they can just call me Smiley if that’s easier — and it usually is,” said Dudley, 40, assistant store manager at The Home Depot in Key West. He earned the nickname when he started with the home improvement giant nearly 21 years ago in Vero Beach, Florida.
“When I first started with The Home Depot, I was a 19- or 20-year-old kid with a big Afro and a smile. Apparently I’m always smiling,” Dudley said on Tuesday morning, pulling down his mask to indeed reveal a gentle and authentic smile. “I figure, hey, there are plenty of worse nicknames to be called.”
The Fort Pierce native moved to Key West in 2012 after falling in love with a Key West Conch named Brittiny while living and attending college in Tallahassee.
That’s where Dudley first joined The Home Depot while also taking college classes.
“April will be 21 years since I started with the company in 2000,” he said. “It’s a fantastic place to work. I started as a ‘lot associate,’ meaning I was a cart pusher in the parking lot. Then I moved up and worked on the floor in all the departments. I entered our management training program when I was 26 and am now assistant store manager here in Key West.”
The Key West store opened 15 years ago in 2006, said Dudley, who knows every inch of the enormous store as well as he knows his own kitchen — every department, section, aisle and employee, plus scores of regular customers who seek him out for advice and directions to their needed items. Fortunately, he’s also pretty handy on his own, so he’s happy to help, and, like all associates, will typically take a customer directly to the aisle and product they need.
His favorite department?
“That would be the garden center,” he said, settling onto a couch in the store’s patio furniture department for this interview. “My grandmother had a deep love for all plants and was constantly gardening. She grew fruits, vegetables, flowers, you name it. And she always taught me all about whatever she was growing. Could we take some photos in that department as a tribute to her?”
As he climbed one of the store’s wheeled ladders in the garden department Tuesday, Dudley’s “regulars” greeted him happily. They share updates on their ongoing home projects and seek his advice about everything from fertilizer to light fixtures, paint to plumbing issues.
“Hi, Anwar, good to see you.”
“Smiley! What’s happening?”
“You’re looking for Smiley? I just saw him somewhere; he’ll be right back.”
Dudley takes his job, his customers and his associates very seriously. His personal Twitter account is filled with shout-outs to store associates who have gone the extra mile, photos of ice cream treats and other employee appreciation efforts and shots of a kids’ summer camp project at The Home Depot a few summers ago.
The Dudleys’ daughter, Brielle, was born in 2011 in Tallahassee, he said.
“And in 2012, we moved to Key West to be closer to my wife’s family, so I transferred to this store, which some people still remember as being ‘the old Scotty’s’ hardware store,” he said, laughing. “Some of our current employees actually worked here when it was Scotty’s.”
Before he and his wife moved to Key West, Dudley hadn’t been to the Southernmost City since he was about 6.
“I remember driving across the old, narrow Seven Mile Bridge as a tiny kid coming on vacation. But I hadn’t been down since then, until we moved here in 2012.”
His son, August, was born in Key West three years ago.
“I love Key West,” he said. “It’s laid back. The pace of life isn’t too fast; crime isn’t high and everyone knows everyone, which can be a good or a bad thing.”
In addition to his full-time work as assistant store manager at The Home Depot, Dudley also delivers newspapers for the Keys Weekly, all with the same trademark smile.