ABC Stores founder saw future in Waikiki
Sidney Kosasa / 1919-2006
Sidney S. Kosasa, the founder of the famous Honolulu-based ABC Stores chain, died at his home on Friday. He was 86.
"He was sleeping and died peacefully," said son Paul Kosasa, who is president of ABC Stores. "There was no pain, no suffering. ... He slipped away."
Condolences may be sent:
c/o ABC Stores
766 Pohukaina St.
Honolulu, HI 96813
No flowers. Donations may be made to your favorite charity
Private services were held yesterday afternoon. The family is requesting no flowers, but condolences may be sent to the company's headquarters.
Born in December 1919 in Palolo Valley, Kosasa was the son of first-generation Japanese immigrants. His experiences in retail began early, when he worked for his parents' grocery store, M. Kosasa Grocery and Butcher, on 10th Avenue in Palolo.
The McKinley High School graduate would go on to the University of California at Berkeley to receive a pharmacist's degree. But World War II intervened, and Kosasa was sent to Tule Lake Internment Camp in northern California under Executive Order 9066. The camp was where he met and married his wife, Minnie.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
ABC Stores such as this one on Kalakaua Avenue proved to be a port in the storm when electricity failed Oct. 15 after earthquakes rocked Oahu and the neighbor islands.
He was able to get out of camp in 1943 to work as a pharmacist at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Mo. After gaining one year of experience, he returned to Hawaii to work in the Benson Smith Drug Store, where he worked his way up to store manager.
In 1949, Kosasa and his wife decided to open their own drug store on Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki, known later as Thrifty Drugs, which over 10 years grew to four locations. Kosasa also operated the pharmacies inside three GEM Discount department stores, where he would learn the ins and outs of the discount business.
It was while attending a convention in Miami Beach, Fla., and observing the hustle and bustle of tourists at large hotels there that Kosasa was struck with the inspiration for ABC Stores.
He knew Waikiki would one day be as busy as Miami Beach.
So he returned to Hawaii, scoped out a 700-square-foot space on Kalakaua Avenue, and launched the first ABC Store in 1964.
Today, ABC Stores are ubiquitous in Waikiki, filling a niche as an all-purpose convenience shop catering to tourists. There are 55 ABC Stores in Hawaii, eight in Guam, two in Saipan and six in Las Vegas.
Parent company MNS Ltd. also owns Hawaiian Casuals gift shop in Waikiki, and will partner with Big Island supermarket chain KTA Superstores next year to launch Island Gourmet Markets in Waikoloa.
Kosasa's accomplishments are numerous: He was named the first retailer of the year in 1985 by the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, an honor later bestowed on son Paul in 2003.
He was actively involved in the business community, as past president and a life member of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, president of the Hawaii Retail Druggists' Association and president of Kuakini Health System.
Kosasa also served on the boards of Island Insurance Co., Central Pacific Bank, Hawaii Visitors Bureau, Kaimuki Youth and the Oahu Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
More important, he created a new business model by giving employees -- whom he called associates -- a profit-sharing plan in which a significant share of earnings is contributed by the company each year. To foster team spirit, the management meets with about 1,000 associates three times a year over a family-style dinner.
Paul Kosasa described his father as very progressive and caring of the employees.
"In the company, we never had to lay off anybody," he said. "That's one of his proudest accomplishments from a business standpoint."
Up to his last days, Kosasa would visit various ABC Stores to hang out, including the one near the Centerstage area of Ala Moana Center, which is the newest concept store.
His greatest passion outside of the store was golf. He played in the Pro Am, later known as the Sony Open, and made it his favorite pastime.
"He set a good example," said Paul Kosasa. "He was a good father and an inspiration to all of our employees."
Kosasa is survived by his wife, Minnie, sons Paul and Thomas, daughters Susan Kosasa and Gloria Gainsley, and grandchildren Jonathan, Christian, Lisa, Lindsay and Ian.