October 4, 2022

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San Luis Obispo developer, businessman Jim Copeland dies

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Jim Copeland died at the age of 80 on April 25, 2022.

Tribune file photo

Philanthropist and businessman Jim Copeland, who with his brother helped revitalize downtown San Luis Obispo and paved the way for many of the region’s most notable developments, has died, the city announced Wednesday.

Copeland died Monday at the age of 80, according on a city news release.

Along with his younger brother and business partner Tom Copeland, Jim Copeland “made an indelible mark on San Luis Obispo, revitalizing downtown SLO by preserving historic buildings and creating new developments, including Hotel San Luis Obispo, Downtown Centre and Court Street,” according to the release.

In honor of Copeland’s impact on San Luis Obispo, Mayor Erica Stewart ordered all flags on city property to be flown at half-staff through Sunday.

Copeland brothers built sporting goods chain

The Copeland family quietly built a sporting goods empire out of San Luis Obispo, starting with a shoe store on Higuera Street in 1956, according to a 1992 Tribune profile on the brothers.

According to the profile, Jim Copeland attended Cal Poly (but did not graduate) and started working at the business full-time in 1964.

Over the coming decades, the family would expand Copeland Sports to multiple new locations, with Jim Copeland as the de facto financial leader of the growing business. One Tribune article even called him the chain’s “financial wizard.”

During that time, the brothers snapped up real estate — by 1992, the family’s numerous San Luis Obispo County properties were worth an assessed $14.3 million, according to previous Tribune reports, though the article noted that was likely an under-valued assessment of the Copeland holdings.

Some of those properties included prominent downtown spaces along Chorro, Osos, Monterey and Marsh streets, which the brothers entered into a partnership with Atlanta-based real estate investment company Jamestown for in 2013.

Those included retailers like Urban Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret and Pottery Barn, and the building that housed Copeland Sports until the brothers sold that and six other stores to Sports Authority amid bankruptcy in 2006.

According to previous Tribune reports, Jim Copeland was also integral in the revitalization of downtown San Luis Obispo, supporting projects like the Downtown Centre with its theaters, restaurants and stores; the Court Street shopping center; the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum; and the Old Mission retrofit project.

He also supported the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly.

SLO businessman was also philanthropist

Besides being the “financial wizard” of the Copelands’ chain, Jim Copeland was a noted local philanthropist, donating to a range of local groups, most notably French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

In a news release Thursday, French Hospital called Copeland “a dedicated community advocate who endeavors to make San Luis Obispo a better place for generations to come.”

According to the release, Copeland’s “expertise and insightful wisdom guided the French Hospital Community Board” through 16 years, including two years as chair of the board.

He was even awarded the hospital’s Louis Tedone MD Humanitarian Award in 2014 for his contributions to the community and health care.

Some of Copeland’s other notable philanthropies included donations to the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center and the San Luis Obispo County Jail Behavioral Health Unit, according to the city news release.

In honor of his contributions, French Hospital will also lower its flag to half-staff on Sunday, according to the release.

“Jim Copeland was not only an avid supporter of our hospital, but a dear friend,” Alan Iftiniuk, president and CEO of French Hospital Medical Center, said in the release. “He shared in our vision for the future of health care in San Luis Obispo County, and was a steadfast advocate for our new facility, ensuring the highest levels of care to residents, well into the future.

“We will always remember him as a true humanitarian, and his legacy will live on in our hospital.”

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.