Longtime Downtown shopkeeper continues his clothing business
By Dave Fidlin
Ron Ford thought the holiday season of 2016 would be his final one working in retail.
But fate had other plans for Ford, a longtime business owner who has operated men’s clothier Ron Stuart in San Diego for the past three and a half decades.
A year ago, Ford was ushering in the holidays by holding a liquidation sale at his shop at 225 W. A St. It was the third location in 30 years for his venerable Downtown-based business.
Ford cited a litany of reasons at the time for closing his doors, including changes in men’s fashion and the retail industry as a whole. He said he also wanted to slow down and enjoy retirement.
As he was in the process of shuttering, however, a new opportunity arose — one the 77-year-old businessman said was too good to pass up.
In February, after a very brief respite, Ford resurrected Ron Stuart Men’s Clothing — this time in a smaller space, at 2410 First Ave., in nearby Bankers Hill.
“I’ve been blessed with good health and it’s three minutes from my house,” Ford said, pointing to one of the primary reasons he decided to continue on with his professional pursuits.
Business, Ford said, is about 40 percent of what it was when he operated Downtown, which is a figure he is content with because of low overhead.
“I’m probably just as profitable as I was before because I don’t have as much in the way of expenses,” Ford said.
Ron Stuart’s newest location has a story unto itself. The deep-rooted old Victorian dwelling was once used as a two-story carriage house. The second story of the building, where the clothier is now located, was once purposed as a hayloft.
Almost serendipitously, the home was on the market around the time Ford was winding down operations at his A Street location.
“When I first saw it, I thought to myself, ‘This is just a beautiful place,’” Ford said.
A year ago, Ford bemoaned changes in menswear — shifts that meant fewer men were wearing traditional suits and more were dressing down in the professional workplace.
“But menswear is evolving,” he said. “Things might be changing, but men are still going to wear clothes.”
The mixed-use Bakers Hill property, which still serves as a residence on the first floor, perfectly suited what Ford said he envisioned for the future of Ron Stuart. His new business operates in a much smaller footprint than ever before.
“It’s more of a showroom now,” Ford said of his tweaked business plan. “This space gives me the chance to offer more of a personal experience. It’s worked out very well.”
Logistically, it is also within five blocks to a number of locales, including Balboa Park and his old perch Downtown.
When asked how the customer reception has been at his new location, Ford said business has been steady and that word of mouth has been the primary driver of business in the past 10 months.
“I don’t even have anything in my windows,” Ford mused, adding that he has to respect the historic integrity of the building. “I have to be very specific when I tell people how to get here.”
In a way, Ford said the current scenario harkens back to his earliest days in business, when he co-ran Ron Stuart with his then-business partner, Stuart Schlesinger, in Los Angeles.
“We didn’t have any signs back then either,” Ford said. “We even had a locked gate. But we made it work.”
Ford and Schlesinger incorporated Ron Stuart into a business in 1974 in Los Angeles and opened a San Diego location seven years later. Eventually, Ford went solo with the business, though Schlesinger’s name has remained part of it ever since.
Ron Stuart Men’s Clothing maintained a presence in both cities for more than a decade, though Ford said he made a decision to leave Los Angeles in 1992 — the same time as the riots took place in the heart of the city — and focus his time and energy on the San Diego market.
Over the years, Ford said San Diego has always been a place where he has enjoyed running a business.
“I’m very happy,” Ford said, as he looked back at how the past year has turned out. “I still meet with nice, loyal followers. It’s really a pleasure.”
— Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist with a special affinity for San Diego and its people. Contact him at email@example.com.