In 1972, Carey Hewitt and Jim Reidhead didn’t like their jobs much. They decided to open a store as a way out. The only problem was they didn’t know what they wanted to sell.
Jim was an agricultural engineer and Carey was a math teacher.
“I was teaching school for a year in Greeley, and I needed to not do that,” he says. “I got a Purple Heart in that, and I needed to do something different.”
It took them a while to figure out exactly what kind of store they wanted. The pair debated opening a woodworking shop but realized they couldn’t afford the equipment they would need.
“Both of our wives got jobs teaching. They went off on orientation day and we both sat around and said, ‘What are we going to do?’” Carey says. “My wife suggested we look at copying the Board and Barrell (a store in Larimer Square in Denver). We went to them and they helped us out. We didn’t know anything. We didn’t know if you bought something for a dollar what you should sell it for. We were that green.”
Apparently, they made a good choice because their brainchild, The Cupboard, a kitchen and home goods store, is celebrating 50 years on College Avenue in Fort Collins this month.
“[I] had no idea it would still be around,” Carey says. “We made $100 the first day, and we were ecstatic. We had no idea what we were doing.”
Originally the store was in 750 square feet of the Northern Hotel (just south of where Starbucks is today) and they sold pottery, macramé (told you it was 1972!) and unusual kitchen items. The first sale was three wooden spoons for 95 cents. “Wooden spoons were pretty unusual back then,” Carey says.
After six years, Reidhead wanted out of retail and Carey was ready to expand as the store turned its focus on kitchen items based on customer demand. Carey bought him out and moved the store to its current location at 152 S. College Avenue. Over the years, the store expanded three more times to become what their website says is “one of the largest independent kitchen and home stores in the nation.”
The store is now owned by Carey’s son, Jim. “I worked there when I was in high school and summers in college, in the back room mostly, in receiving, pricing, gift wrapping, unpacking boxes, etc.,” Jim says. “Then I came back in 2007, and I believe it was 2015 that I purchased the store and took over as owner.”
“Dad is still involved. He is the CFO,” Jim adds. “He comes and goes as he pleases. He is out on the floor… mostly during the holidays.”
This summer, Jim’s daughter, Hailey, worked at the store while home from college. Carey is quick to point out that this actually makes them the second third-generation trio to work at The Cupboard. He notes that the manager of the store, Polly Erickson, has two daughters who worked at the store and her mother did as well.
Of the 25 people who work there, seven of them have been there for at least 20 years. “The people have really made The Cupboard what it is,” Jim says.
Many of them have a key role, in fact, and are in charge of ordering items for different departments.
“Fifty years is pretty impressive, and I look back at how my dad started this,” Jim says. “It’s people focused. And it’s set up in a way where people have responsibilities and have ownership of the store. It really creates the culture and the responsibility of ownership. They aren’t just standing at a register. They are part of this.”
Other than empowering employees, The Cupboard also has a unique way of incentivizing employees to use less power. The store offers employees a per-mile incentive to not drive a vehicle. Carey, for his part, rode a bike to work for decades. The Cupboard was recognized by the League of American Bicyclists and by ClimateWise for its environmental efforts.
When customers walk into The Cupboard, they often feel like they are stepping back in time. Many of the fixtures and displays are the original ones built by the founding partners. The wood floor (stripped down to the original 1914 wood when they moved into the current location) squeaks. There’s even a candy counter at the front.
“People come in not just to shop. [They want] to have an experience. Whether it’s just to get a piece of candy, go down memory lane or to set up the next generation with their cooking supplies,” Jim says. “We try to make it a nice, warm place where people feel comfortable. You are welcome to come in and not buy anything…that’s fine with us.”
Carey says that although he is still surprised the store has been around so long, it happened because they changed with the times. “We listen to what customers want and learn to lead and follow at the same time,” he says.
But the real pride he gets from this accomplishment is watching his son. “We didn’t have a computer until Jim came to work here,” he says. “It’s fun to see my son take it and run with it. It’s not pride in what I did. It’s not just me. It’s a group of people and I can’t wait to celebrate with them. I want to say thank you because they are all part of this.”
The Cupboard will officially celebrate their anniversary the week of Oct. 8-16.
They are planning a cutlery sale, celebrity knife sharpening event, live music and more. The Hewitts are also hosting a private celebration for all the former staff members to attend. The Fort Collins City Council made an official proclamation for the anniversary at its Sept. 20 meeting.
Jared Fiel is a writer in Northern Colorado who has never walked by The Cupboard without at least popping in for a piece of candy … or seven.