JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jolene Hamada, daughter of Elroy Hamada, whisked a box of eggs to a customer at the H. Hamada Store yesterday, on the eve of its closing. The store closed its doors for good yesterday after 50 years at 885 Queen St. Owner Elroy Hamada said he plans on doing volunteer work with his church as well as some traveling.
H. Hamada Store no more
The grocery store on Queen Street closes to customers after 50 years
When he woke up early yesterday morning, Elroy Hamada, owner of the H. Hamada Store, felt bittersweet.
Yesterday marked the mom-and-pop grocery shop's last day of business after a run of four generations, including 50 years at 885 Queen St.
It was the last time Hamada would have to wake up early. But he also felt a tinge of sadness that the days of talking story with decades of customers would be over.
Still, Hamada said he realized that it was time to call it quits.
"I'm going to take it easy and volunteer for my church," said Hamada, who attends New Hope Christian Fellowship. "I'm 60 years old and that's it. The Lord has called me to serve him and I'm just anxious to work for somebody else now."
He's also going to take a family vacation.
The store will be leased to Honolulu Orthopedic Supply next month, following an interior renovation. The exterior will remain the same, but one of the side structures will be torn down to make room for more parking, now limited to about eight stalls.
Elroy Hamada's late parents, Hiroshi and Patsy Hamada, bought the nearly 20,000-square-foot Queen Street property in 1956.
Before that, the business was on Kukui Street, and before that, Elroy's late grandfather Hatsutaro Hamada ran the store at the Aloha Tower Marketplace.
Over the years, several family members, including Elroy's wife, Shirley, daughter Jolene and sister Diane Miyasato, have been pitching in, six days a week, rising early to open the store by 7 a.m.
Both of his children, Jolene and Brandon, plan to pursue other interests.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
In business on Queen Street in Kakaako since 1956, the H. Hamada Store was serving customers for the last time yesterday. Above, owner Elroy Hamada helped Mrs. Pacheco, left, a regular customer, with her groceries.
Hamada has seen the neighborhood around him transformed from residential to light industrial, mostly auto body shops, and more recently, a corridor to luxury condominiums.
Along the way, the family came to know by name many of their customers, in some cases seeing their children grow up to become customers themselves.
Aunty Genoa Keawe was among the clientele, as well as the family of Eddie Aikau.
Yesterday, customers looked over the half-empty shelves one last time, making their last purchases, now souvenirs, before the 5 p.m. closing.
Among them were Elsie and Bill Yangson of Salt Lake, who made the stop yesterday with their daughter Cheryl.
The Yangsons, in their 70s, said it was one of the few places you can still buy a can of soup for 89 cents.
"I'm sure going to miss it," said Elsie Yangson. "Friendly people, reasonable prices."
Customers came from as far as Nanakuli , and as close as right next door for large cans of spam, corned beef and Vienna sausages. They also flew in from neighbor islands, including Molokai, to stock up before going home.
They had learned of Hamada Store solely by word of mouth.
Hamada said his father's philosophy was: "You don't have to advertise. Just make your prices reasonable -- that's the best advertising you can have."
The neighborhood, though changed, still holds memories. As a kid helping out at the store, he remembers lunch breaks with his parents at Flamingo Chuckwagon. Over lunch, he promised them he would never sell the property, but would leave it to his children and grandchildren.
Though he was recently offered millions for the site, Hamada stayed true to his promise.
"They worked so hard to buy it," he said. "And they paid cash."
The store has been profitable, according to Hamada, though his property taxes have gone up nearly threefold.
The expected arrival of Whole Foods Market at the Ward Village site probably wouldn't have affected the store, said Hamada, because it serves a very different clientele.
"Most of my customers are everyday, local people looking for bulk prices," he said, estimating about 70 percent use food stamps. "We have loyal customers, that's the thing. They come back and shop."
Hamada plans to donate remaining goods to the homeless. A farewell party will be held on Tuesday.