Nearing 78 years in serving San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, Forden’s has seen many changes from its downtown storefront’s windows. Now, the store is relocating and changing its business model.
Forden’s has also seen internal changes in the past seven or eight decades, as its products have swapped from hardware to kitchenware to fireplaces. It’s changed hands about four times. It’s also had two different addresses (from Chorro to Monterey streets), but it has always been downtown.
Dean Moore, Forden’s current owner, and his partner Gary Smee sold the building on Monterey Street and are moving the business to their warehouse location off Sacramento Drive in San Luis Obispo. It’s a transition that’s been in the works for a while, he said.
Because the warehouse is not zoned for retail, Moore said Forden’s is going to narrow its focus to fireplace and stove products, as it won’t be allowed to sell kitchen merchandise.
“It’s a move; we’re not going out of business. No way. We’re continuing and we’re going to become stronger in the hearth business,” Moore said.
Last summer, chain and franchise stores popped up across the street from Forden’s, including Williams Sonoma—famed purveyor of high-end cookware, kitchen accessories, and gourmet goods. Moore said that while he wasn’t pleased with the new corporate stores that were coming into the local business community, it did offer more foot traffic to a once dead street.
Even though his competition is a crosswalk away, Moore said Williams Sonoma has nothing to do with their relocation.
“This is our decision,” he said. “Nobody has forced us out.”
Forden’s biggest revenue source is from hearth products, so it made sense to emphasize that part of the business and expand the working warehouse to offer customers a product showroom, he said.
Although its merchandise has altered over the years, the store has a solid foundation in the San Luis Obispo community. It was established in the 1920s by George Isola, an Italian immigrant. Isola later sold the business to his employee Stanton Forden in the ’40s, who changed the name to Forden’s Hardware. In 1950, the store moved from its Chorro Street address to its current location and garnered a few more new owners. Moore and his partner purchased it in 1988.
“I think as it gets closer [to moving], it’s kind of the end of an era because Forden’s has been in this building for 67 years,” Moore said.
The store is expected to close its doors on Monterey Street and expand its warehouse location in the fall.