Holman’s was founded in 1891 by Rensselaer Luther Holman who reportedly came to Pacific Grove to retire. His first store was named the Popular Dry Goods Store. The name was later changed to Holman’s Department Store.
In 1927, the new store was built. The store had three floors and a fourth was added in 1937. The store had 46 departments. On the roof was a solarium and in good weather, food was served on the terrace. A large plate glass window on the roof allowed a great view of Monterey Bay while protecting patrons from the wind. The dining room was on the fourth floor.
The store sold popular priced fashion and home goods. In buildings behind the main building the store also sold building supplies, seeds, and feed supplies.
Holman’s is known for being the store at which John Steinbeck shopped. Some of the drafts of his novels were written on notepads purchased at Holman’s. In addition, one of the company’s biggest publicity stunts was mentioned in his book Cannery Row. This is when a roller skater skated on top of the store’s flagpole for 51 hours to break a record. This event was also recorded for the newsreels that played in the movie theaters in the 1940’s. (You can view it on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjXhJ3yz0yY)
Pacific Grove was a vacation spot for the wealthy from the San Francisco Bay Area. Until the late 1950’s, the Southern Pacific operated trains from San Francisco to Monterey and Pacific Grove.
For a while, the company operated a branch store in Monterey.
The Pacific Grove building now houses an antiques mall.
What happened???? …. In the 1990’s and into 2000, it became difficult to operate an independent department store. A mall opened in Monterey with all the major department stores and a host of specialty retailers. It became impossible to compete with the department and specialty stores which had better assortments with the brands the consumer desired. In 1985, Holman’s was sold to Watsonville, California based Ford’s Department Store. Ford’s was the oldest merchantile company in California as it was started in 1852. Ford’s was expanding at the time and had also acquired Riley’s based in San Louis Obispo. Unfortunately, Ford’s Watsonville store was destroyed in the 1989 earthquake. The store was rebuilt and opened in 1992. Unfortunately, This led to Ford’s filing for bankruptcy in 1993 and its closing of all eight stores, including the Holman’s store in Pacific Grove.
I visited the store a couple of times in the 1960’s when I went to the sports car races at Laguna Seca. I found the store to be clean and staffed with friendly and helpful sales people. The store had a local feel and a family atmosphere.
A good friend, Laurie Heth, worked in the publicity department at Holman’s. She described the store as an exciting and fun place to work. She was sad to see it close.
The Holman family currently operates a guest ranch in the area. I hope that the family, customers, and former employees will feel free to add to this post so that the memories of this fine store will be kept alive. This is too important of a store to fade away.