A history of Forden's, which opened in SLO in the 1920s
Forden’s, a family-owned store with a storied history in downtown San Luis Obispo dating to the 1920s, will consolidate its operations to a warehouse site across town by the end of the year.
Dean Moore and his family — owners of the company that sells products for the home and kitchen, barbecue supplies, mailboxes and more at 857 Monterey St. — have sold the two-story building to Andy Mangano, a developer whose projects include the Marsh Street Brownstones and Avila Ranch, both in San Luis Obispo. Terms were not disclosed.
Forden’s will expand its operations at its warehouse at 3540 Sacramento Drive, where it will focus on selling hearth, barbecue and other home accessories while dropping kitchen supplies.
“It has been amazing to see what it’s become since I bought this store 28 years ago with my business partner, Gary Smee,” Moore said. “It’s an emotional thing and not something to leave easily. It would be cool to keep it downtown, but life changes and you adjust. I think I’ll be bummed for about a week, but we’ll move on.”
It won’t be the first time in its long history that the store has moved.
Forden’s was originally a hardware store located at 1033 Chorro St. Its second owner, Stan Forden, moved it to the Monterey Street site in 1950. The building, constructed in 90 days in 1926, survived a fire in 1976 from faulty wiring that threatened to burn the structure down. Moore and Smee bought the business in 1989, and they kept the name Forden’s. In recent years, the ownership has been equally shared among Moore, his two sons Kevin and Jason Moore, and Smee.
“Any time that a downtown can support a business for the better part of a century, it is a testament to the vitality of a community and locally owned and operated businesses,” said Dominic Tartaglia, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association.
It’s an emotional thing and not something to leave easily.
Dean Moore, owner of Forden’s
Tartaglia added: “I would love to know how many other businesses or ventures in our community were started over a discussion in front of a Forden’s fireplace or thanks to a meal prepared with one of their products.”
Moore declined to share annual sales or profits but said his store had its “greatest year ever” in sales last year. He said sales increased by 15 percent over 2015 and have grown steadily each year since the recession.
Internet competition and economic factors such as the national chain Williams-Sonoma moving in across the street last fall weren’t part of the decision to move, Moore said. Williams-Sonoma, which sells some of the same products as his store, had “zero impact” on his decision, he added.
Moore said he received an attractive offer for the building and that he’s slowing down in his role, instead of working 50 to 70 hours a week, while sharing management with his two sons, as well as Smee.
Mangano “made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse,” Moore said.
Moore said that his business doesn’t sell any of its products online and that it has thrived on a personal relationship with customers, some who have loyally supported the store for decades.
“We have customers all over the county and as far as away as Big Sur, Santa Barbara and Visalia,” Moore said. “Some people say they wouldn’t trust anyone else to install a fireplace for them.”
Any time that a downtown can support a business for the better part of a century it is a testament to the vitality of a community and locally owned and operated businesses.
Dominic Tartaglia, executive director of San Luis Obispo Downtown Association
As part of an agreement between Mangano and the Forden’s ownership team, the business has nine months remaining on its lease. By the time that lease expires at year’s end, the store hopes to open its expanded warehouse location. Both facilities will continue to operate in the interim.
“As soon as we get the permit (to expand the warehouse site), we’re ready to start the new construction,” Moore said.
Moore said that his company is trying to figure out how it will manage operations during the warehouse expansion and whether to move warehouse employees temporarily to its second floor on Monterey Street.
Forden’s is in the planning process with the city to increase the warehouse size to 10,000 square feet from 6,000 square feet. It will feature a showroom, offices and a warehouse in the back. The Monterey Street store currently takes up 4,400 square feet with two balconies.
The business has a rich history, previously selling hardware products, dating to the 1920s.
Stan Forden, with a background as a hardware store salesman, took over the business from the original owner, Italian immigrant George Isola, who also had owned a bar in San Luis Obispo.
A folksy, old framed portrait of the grand opening of Forden’s Hardware in 1939 advertises a lawn mower for $6.95, a garden hose for 97 cents and a claw hammer for 73 cents. The phone number is only three digits — 273. The original trestles, built on-site, still support the building.
Moore’s predecessor, third owner Robert Vasquez, stopped selling hardware in the 1970s when chain competitors such as Ace and True Value began dominating the market. The store began to focus more on kitchen, gifts and hearth products.
Moore’s wife, Ruth Ann, still has a waffle iron that she bought from the store in a sale after the fire in 1976.
Moore was working as the manager of the county’s social services department in 1989 when he bought Forden’s as a way to pass down a living to his sons. Another son, Greg Moore, is a contractor who will take on the warehouse project.
“We get people in here all the time who say they’re so glad we’re still here after all these years, including people who have gone away and come back,” Moore said. “We have a lot of memories — people who have worked here 20, 30 years. We’ll still make memories, just across town.”
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