Bert Paul (left) and family celebrate his retirement from Forks Outfitters on Friday, Sept. 23. Paul led the company for 27 years. His son Bruce (right) is now the head of the store. Bert's wife Martha and Bruce's wife Shelley joined in greeting customers, serving a picnic table full of retirement cakes and reminiscing about Bert's years with Outfitters.
Bert Paul is saying farewell to his employees and Forks Outfitters shoppers on Friday, Sept. 23, heading for retirement after completing his 27-year career running his family’s business.
Following graduation from Western Washington University Bert spent 18 years in a business career with Sears & Roebuck Co., ending up supervising 34 locations for wearing apparel in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. He returned home to Forks and his family business with his wife Martha and their children in 1984.
Under Bert’s leadership, Forks Outfitters has grown with the West End and the times to become a landmark business for Forks and the entire of the West End of the Olympic Peninsula, and a rival in quality and service to the finest grocery-hardware stores found in suburban and urban areas.
Bert is handing off the leadership of Forks Outfitters to his son Bruce Paul, who has most recently headed up the Forks Outfitters Ace Hardware business while also being the operating superintendent of the store. The multi-department store is one of the oldest and longest running businesses on the West End, and continues to thrive as Forks and adjoining towns grow.
The roots of Forks Outfitters go back to a decision made by Bert’s grandfather, Bert M. Paul, and Bert’s father, Warren Paul, to sell their dairy farm in Port Orchard and buy Forks Grocery and Feed, a long-time downtown Forks business in 1952.
The timber industry of Forks boomed following the Forks Fire of 1951 and the town’s population grew rapidly, making it an excellent time to buy the business.
The Paul family purchased the business in 1952. Forks Grocery and Feed was located in a wooden building with frontage along South Forks Avenue, on the same site as today’s Forks branch of Peninsula College.
The Forks Grocery and Feed building was demolished in 1961. Bert M. Paul retired that year, and Warren and his wife Ella decided it was time to make another investment in the West End community. They expanded the family business on the same site along Forks Avenue, now in a modern concrete block building, renaming their business as Paul’s Serve-U.
In 1973 the Pauls decided it was time for Forks to have its own supermarket. A larger site with room for expansion was found on the south end of town. Business partners Bob Green and Mike Philips invested in the venture along with landlord Tom Mansfield Sr. who was a member of another multi-generational Forks family. The new, larger store was named Forks Thrifty Mart.
Upon his return home to Forks, Bert, a graduate of Forks High School and Spartan basketball player, said he knew when he bought into the company that it was time to expand. “You can’t stand still, you are either improving or moving backwards,” is how Bert in a nutshell explains the long-term business plan he decided upon in the 1980s.
In 1995 an addition to the front of Forks Thrifty Mart provided Forks shoppers with a deli/bakery, an espresso bar and a new customer service center, new freezers a new floor and expanded produce section.
In 2005 Forks Outfitters was expanded to 51,000 square feet of space. To the north side of the store a new 18,000 square-foot Forks Outfitters Ace Hardware store opened in November 2005. That was the first step in a four-phase expansion that included the opening of the Forks Outfitter clothing store in the former Ace Hardware section of the store. Later, Forks Boot and Shoe, previously owned by Rich and Mae Hsu, was moved from downtown Forks to the store. And the Thriftway grocery section was expanded, adding new meat cases and more.