Chown opened for business in Portland, Oregon on September 15, 1879. With his life savings of $5,000 of gold inside his money belt, Francis R Chown left Kingston, Ontario Canada. After wandering the west he decided on the growing city of Portland (17,000 people in 1879). Chown’s original inventory of farm implements, logging supplies, construction materials and tools came by Clipper sailing ships from the hardware and plumbing wholesalers in San Francisco. Francis’ original location was ideal, 1st & Main. The combination of a great location and a booming economy caused Francis and his son D.B. Chown to move twice before becoming the largest retail hardware store at Fourth and Alder.
At the time the company manufactured crystal radio sets, featured Portland’s first electric washing machines and motorized circular saws were assembled from parts. Much of their business success involved sporting goods and they were thought of by outdoormen at the time as that “fish and tackle store”. Chown solidified this reputation by selling more hunting and fishing licenses than any other outlet in Oregon.
Following World War II, the grandson of the founder, also named Frank Chown, opened an industrial store in 1947 at NW 16th Flanders (our current location). This store specialized in builder’s hardware by contract and woodworking tools.Over the next 30 years the business continued to grow by acquiring the Pella window franchise and Overhead Door of Oregon.
After raising three boys, who were now in the business, Eleanor Chown (Frank’s wife) opened decorator hardware, gift and antique stores throughout Oregon.In the early 1980’s Oregon went through a severe recession as the timber industry began to radically shrink, aluminum plants closed as prices plunged, manufacturing plants relocated and construction activity waned. Chown depended on all of these businesses for revenue. After selling off the acquisitions, closing the small retail outlets and restructuring the management Frank Chown shrunk the business in half and survived. Shortly thereafter Frank Chown retired and transferred ownership to his three sons: Steve, Fred and David.
After surviving the early 1980’s the Chown brothers decided to refocus the business on their core competency of commercial and residential hardware, high-end residential plumbing and wood working tools. In June of 1998 Chown sold it’s tool inventory to concentrate on hardware.
Today, Chown is the industry leader in it’s two divisions. Chown Security provides and installs doors, frames, hardware and access control products to end users including to general contractors, businesses, schools, hospitals, and property managers. Chown Hardware sells residential door and cabinet hardware and plumbing products to consumers and the trades, and has two showrooms, one in Portland, Oregon and the other in Bellevue, Washington.