Since 1966, Charles Shoes has been a familiar presence in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo.
But over the next few months, its owners and employees will say farewell. The store on Higuera Street is going out of business after 53 years in operation.
Charles Shoes is temporarily shut down until Thursday to re-organize signs and shelves for liquidation. Items such as men’s and women’s footwear will be on sale for up to 70% off.
Store co-owners and sisters Cyndi Ashley and Suzette Porche plan to retire.
“SLO has been so good to us,” Ashley said, adding that her experiences learning the business from her parents have been extremely rewarding. “It has been nothing but great to serve our loyal customers and to be such a part of the community. Things are changing, but I have nothing bad to say about that. It is what it is.”
Ashley, 67, has run the shop with the helping hand of her son, Jason Ashley, a longtime employee in his 40s who has done “every job the store has ever needed,” while helping to fit people with the right size, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of long-term customers who have shopped here since before I was born,” Jason Ashley said. “They come in and tell me stories about me running around in here as a little kid, which is really endearing. Getting to help them has been great.”
Why the store is closing
The Ashleys said that a combination of factors led to the family’s decision to close Charles Shoes.
Store owner Ken Porche, Cyndi Ashley’s father, died in 2017 and bequeathed the ownership stake in the 7,000-square-foot building in a trust involving his five children.
Cyndi Ashley and Suzette Porche own and operate the store, which carries dress shoes, sandals, sneakers and “comfort shoes” as well as purses. But their three siblings aren’t involved in the business.
The building is currently on the market for sale through realtor John Righetti. One local real estate site listed the asking price at $5.2 million.
The store could continue to liquidate through October, or it may be out sooner depending on sales, the Ashleys said.
A changing business climate and fond memories
In recent years, the Ashleys said the business felt the pressure of e-commerce competition.
Cyndi Ashley added that limited available street parking nearby impacted the store’s older, less mobile customers especially.
“I would have liked to keep on going,” Ashley said. “My mother worked here under she couldn’t go anymore and got sick.”
Ashley said she’ll also enjoy some time in her retirement to relax, be with her grandchildren and travel.
The Mission Prep graduate told some classmates about her pending retirement, and the family posted a “Going out of Business” sale sign on the building front on Saturday.
Jason Ashley said that he has a host of fond memories from his time working at Charles Shoes — including finding shoes for the groom of a wedding an hour before the ceremony, listening to the life stories of “sweet old ladies” and shopping for the latest trends and fashions.
“All the different situations we’ve had with customers, they’ve been challenging at times, but fun to get invested in,” he said.
Close ties to San Luis Obispo history
The history of the Charles Shoes location as a clothing business goes back to 1954. Then owned by Charles Weisman, the store sold women’s clothing on one side of the building and shoes on the other.
The Higuera Street space was once home to the city jail, as well as the fire department and old city hall.
The fire department was on the ground floor, and, ironically, a third-floor fire almost burned the building down in August 1938. The 61-year-old building’s bell tower was heavily damaged.
Ken Porche, a close friend of Weisman, eventually bought the rebuilt Charles Shoes building, which has remained in the family since.
Running the business became a family affair that included shoe repair as well as sales.
“I’ve learned that necessity is exactly the mother of invention,” Jason Ashley said. “We weren’t a big, structured corporate environment. As things come up we have had to find our own way of doing things.”