Incredible, indelible and infectious: just a few words to describe the year 2020. Among other seminal events, Bambu Batu permanently closed the doors of its brick-and-mortar store in downtown San Luis Obispo. But with a sliver of 20-20 hindsight, and a safe distance from the traumatizing pandemic, now is a fine time to stop and reflect on that unforgettable 14-year stretch at the House of Bamboo*.
(*NOTE: While Bambu Batu whimsically sustained this tagline for many prosperous years, we recently learned that the House of Bamboo in Botany, Australia, has been operating under that trade name since 1972! But we stopped using that label when we recently transitioned away from bamboo retail and into bamboo consulting.)
It is with sincere nostalgia and heartfelt gratitude that I’ve put together this retrospective gallery of images from Bambu Batu, the House of Bamboo. I built this business on a dream, and though it never grew to become the Walmart of bamboo products, it was always a shop like no other.
Bambu Batu was the product of earnest values and genuine personal relationships. Our customers came to trust us as a source of conscious gifts and ethical fashion. With that trust came duty and responsibility, and so each and every day we strove to live up to the highest standards and expectations.
If you were lucky enough to be there, you will surely recognize a few of the images from this pictorial history. At the same time, you are likely to come across some forgotten gems. A lot of good times and positive energy were generated at the old bamboo headquarters, so let the memories live on!
A bamboo seed sprouts in Grover Beach
Those who discovered us in downtown San Luis Obispo may never have realized that the store first opened in Grover Beach. That was on the corner of 8th Street and Grand Avenue, next door to the Bible Depot, back in February 2006.
Just eight blocks from the rolling dunes and the sparkling waters of the Pacific, our original space was a bright, sunny tropical paradise. We spent a year and a half in that location, primarily selling bamboo furniture and an eclectic selection of bromeliads and other houseplants.
Bambu Batu transplants to San Luis Obispo
In November 2007, Bambu Batu took a step up and relocated the store to downtown San Luis Obispo, right next door to Big Sky Cafe, and two doors down from the HempShak, which was still in its prime. It seems we never got around to taking a lot of pictures in that space, but we did create some priceless memories. And with a shifting economy and a new demographic, the store also adapted its inventory. It was here that we evolved from a furniture store into a bamboo clothing store.
But ultimately, the space was not quite right for the House of Bamboo. We loved being next to Big Sky, but the space was cramped and the small window afforded little natural sunlight. Then one day, right around the 4th of July, I discovered a vacancy just a block away. And it was perfect.
The House of Bamboo goes Creekside
On September 1, 2010, Bambu Batu moved to its third and final location, at 1023 Broad Street. Right on the creek and across the street from the Arts Museum, the feng shui was unsurpassable. The windows were big and bright, the ceilings were high and open, and the basement was something magical.
Finally, we had arrived. This space had everything we wanted, and we quickly filled it with good vibes. The positive energy was so palpable, it drew bamboo enthusiasts from around the world. And never were they disappointed.
Even today, you might stroll down Broad Street, cross the bridge heading towards Mission Plaza, and detect a subtle scent of Nag Champa or the sweet smell of fresh-cut grass. But that would probably just be your imagination playing tricks.
Bamboo, Kale and Marriage Equality
Who can forget the story of Kale? Possibly Bambu Batu’s greatest triumph of all was the Kale t-shirt. A parody woven through the beef council slogan, the Coca-Cola logo, and a sharp critique of Chick-fil-A’s policies toward gay marriage and free press, the bamboo t-shirts carried a positive message that resonated across the county and beyond.
The story of Kale for Marriage Equality was somewhat convoluted, but the t-shirts were a hit. And we ended up raising thousands of dollars for gay rights charity organizations.
Art After Dark at Bambu Batu
Another of Bambu Batu’s most beloved attractions was Art After Dark. On the first Friday of each month, along with dozens of other participating venues, we hosted a free, three-hour event, featuring live music, local arts and crafts, and local libations. The monthly event consistently drew big crowds, and many fine times were had.
I’m pretty sure that the live music was the secret ingredient that made these events such a blast. Artists like Anthony Roselli, Forrest Williams, P-V Herrera, and the Lucky Shuckers never failed to transform the House of Bamboo into a Salon of Sound.
Passing the Bamboo Torch
After 10 wonderful years in the bamboo business, I decided to open a new chapter in life. We sold the shop and took our family on an international adventure of nomadism and outdoor education. It was (and continues to be) an exceptional experience, especially for our kids, who were then 3 and 6 years old.
But things at the House of Bamboo lost a little continuity at this point, and everything sort of went pear-shaped. Bambu Batu wasn’t just a House of Bamboo. It was also the House of Fred. And somehow, without Fred, it just wasn’t the same.
(Perhaps some of you even remember the original House of Fred, also known as the HempShak. Here we are below, in the very first location, in San Luis Obispo’s historic Creamery, back in 1996.)
So in October 2019, I descended the mountain top, repossessed the store and put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The Phoenix of renewability rose from the ashes, only to be crushed six months later by the modern plague known as COVID-19. And that’s when we put on a Going-Out-Of-Business sale that couldn’t be beat.
Onward and Upward With Bamboo
The 2020 pandemic destabilized us in so many ways — culturally, financially, and politically — even leading us to relocate Bambu Batu from our creekside Shangri-La to a virtual office in the Spanish Pyrenees. But our commitment to bamboo, as both an ornamental plant and an industrial alternative, grew stronger than ever.
From mild-mannered shopkeeper in Smallsville, USA, I now work with bamboo growers and producers around the world, consulting on biochar projects, plantation planning, and downstream value addition.
In June 2023, Bambu Batu was a co-sponsor and presenter at the first annual European Bamboo Expo, an outstanding gathering of bamboo enthusiasts and industrialists in Dortmund, Germany. In August 2023, I spent ten days in Thailand promoting biochar production for carbon credits, and also visited and consulted on a Bambusetum with over 80 species of tropical bamboo.
But no matter where we go, there are certain values and principles that will never change. Get a taste of our flourishing enthusiasm and see what else we have to say about bamboo and Eastern mysticism by visiting a few of our most popular articles.