Customers quickly file in as doors to The Cupboard open promptly at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning in September.
Some will seek a specific kitchen gadget, others a favorite specialty food or an item of home decor. And some will enter the store at 152 S. College Ave. not knowing what they want, but leaving satisfied with an unexpected find.
And their tastes — and sometimes special requests — help drive what’s carried in the store’s inventory, as evidenced by The Cupboard’s very existence as a place for kitchenware.
It was actually customer demand that influenced The Cupboard’s emergence as a kitchen store, soon after its founding in the Northern Hotel building in 1972, said owner Jim Hewitt, who purchased the store from his father, founder Carey Hewitt.
The Cupboard’s location — once a car dealership, later a J.C. Penney store — has achieved iconic status in downtown Fort Collins, ranking as a destination stop for local residents and visitors alike, in part because of listening to customers.
“I think The Cupboard really started to fill a niche because customers were asking for items that were not found in Fort Collins and that they could use for the kitchen,” Jim Hewitt said. “It started out about macrame and pottery and wooden spoons, until that developed into a kitchen store because people were asking for it.
“And so that’s one of the reasons that it’s a kitchen store today because the customers really wanted things that they couldn’t find in other places.”
The Cupboard’s website describes the early shift in focus: “The small store first carried a variety of baskets, pottery, and a few kitchen tools (the first sale was three wooden spoons for $.95). Per customer demand, The Cupboard turned its focus to the kitchen. After three expansions, The Cupboard is now one of the largest independent kitchen and home stores in the nation.”
The Cupboard has become a source for a variety of locally made products as well.
“We try as much as possible to support the local community and artisans,” Hewitt said, with the store stocking locally made food, coffees, candy, cutting boards, pottery and other items.
The Cupboard employs 28 team members, with about half of them working as buyers, helping to identify new merchandise to include on the store’s shelves. That research can be done online, in trade magazines, in other stores, at trade shows, or through meeting sales representatives who visit the store.
“We will find a lot of new products or things that you can’t find other places,” Hewitt said.
Some days at The Cupboard are busier than others, of course.
“There’s always ebb and flow during the time of the year and during the time of the week,” Hewitt said, “and today’s a Saturday, and Saturdays will be our busiest day as far as customers and foot traffic.”
For some of The Cupboard’s employees, the day begins at 6 a.m., hours before opening. Those employees will be working on displays, with others arriving at 8 or 8:30, vacuuming, doing computer work, or performing other tasks to get the store ready. Some will be busy grinding coffee to give customers tastes of local offerings.
As customers arrive, some invariably will leave with kitchen tools, which Hewitt said are The Cupboard’s “bread and butter,” its biggest category, followed by food.
And some customers will fill out one of the store’s “special request cards,” seeking a specific item that they can’t find anywhere else.
“We try to fill those requests as much as possible,” Hewitt said.
After all, that’s how it all began.