CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bob Taga, right, closed his Varsity Motors service station business for the last time yesterday after his family could not agree on a new lease with Kamehameha Schools. Les Hong, left, who holds the lease on a neighboring property, is another leaseholder who was forced to close down.
Moiliili auto landmark bids aloha
Varsity Motors closes after its owners disagree with Kamehameha over a lease
FOR ABOUT 60 years, mechanics have been fixing cars at a small lot in Moiliili. Now, Varsity Motors joins the ranks of mom-and-pop shops that have faded into history.
And in what could be seen as a twist, the shop is scheduled for demolition to make room for a parking lot.
Varsity Motors has been a Taga family affair since 1946. But yesterday, the Moiliili landmark closed its doors for the last time after the Tagas could not agree on a new lease with Kamehameha Schools.
Bob Taga, who had been working at the shop for more than 40 years, said many of his old-time customers have asked him if he would do it again.
"It's been OK," he said. "It's not the easiest of work. You put in 10 to 12 hours a day, starting at 6 a.m. When we were selling gas, we used to open six days a week."
Taga and his father ran the auto repair shop since 1963. He said a 30-year master lease with Kamehameha Schools expired in 1995, and since then he has been on a year-to-year lease.
Taga said Kamehameha Schools has told him that the building on the 10,000-square-foot property will make way for a paved parking lot at the end of August.
Kekoa Paulsen, Kamehameha Schools spokesman, said Taga knew as far back as 1997 that he could be evicted with a 90-day notice as a term of his lease.
Paulsen said Kamehameha Schools was willing to extend Taga's lease until next year. But Taga said he turned down their offer on Friday because it was for only eight months. He had already let go of two of his four mechanics and sent letters to his customers announcing his last day of business would be yesterday.
"What they gave me didn't fit my problem. It was not a viable posture," Taga said.
Now, at least a couple of elected officials who represent the area are wondering what Kamehameha Schools intends to do with the parcels of land it owns on Beretania Street near the Japanese Cultural Center and Puck's Alley.
City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said she plans to meet later this week with Kamehameha Schools to discuss Taga's situation and the schools' plans. Taga's shop is adjacent to an apartment building and a restaurant.
"Who is going to park there?" Kobayashi asked.
State Sen. Brian Taniguchi said, "It's sad that a longtime business like Mr. Taga's is leaving."
"I know he wanted to stick it out for a couple of more years, and all of us in the community had hoped it could have been possible," said Taniguchi, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
However, Paulsen said Kamehameha Schools was responding to demands by area residents who said lack of parking was a problem.
He said Kamehameha Schools is reviewing plans for the 10 acres it owns in the area, including the 73,162-square-foot Puck's Alley and an adjacent vacant lot now used for parking.
He acknowledged that one of the factors is the possibility that the McCully-Moiliili-University area will be a key corridor for the rail-transit system being pushed by Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Taga said his father, Shigeru, now 93, started pumping gas from the South Beretania street location in 1946. He joined the family business, which also included his sister, in 1963, after finishing trade school. His wife, Barbara, is the auto repair shop's office manager.
"I've always been around cars," said Taga, 63. "I began pumping gas since I was 15. We even ran stock cars at the old Honolulu Stadium."
His garage will not be demolished for another month.
"I will still be here for my customers if emergencies come up. We will try to do what we can for them. After all, they are what kept me going all these years, and I am very grateful to them."