Star-Bulletin Features

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Tamura Superette is a familiar sight along
Farrington Highway in Waianae.

Tamura's Super

For years the hub of Waianae
has been providing jobs for some, careers
for others and a place for friends to
meet, talk story and, oh yeah,
buy groceries, too

By Kimberly Fu

ON a cool and quiet morning, the only movement near the Tamura Superette is made by soft breezes passing through the Waianae store's empty parking lots and the steady sweep of Atsuo Kido's broom.

It is 6:45, and the maintenance clerk will be alone with his thoughts and his broom for just five minutes longer as cars begin bringing, their drivers, eager for the store's opening at 7.

Some of them have shopped at Tamura's, as it is called by local residents, for years, others for just a few days. They come in automobiles, on bicycles and by foot.

For Leeward coast residents, the store is more than just a store. It is a place where young people get their first taste of business, a gathering point where friends and family meet to talk while doing the mundane task of shopping.

For almost a century, Tamura's has had a hand in shaping the lives of many. Generations of families have passed through the store, from all over the island and from all walks of life, both as customers and employees. Many children grew up with the store and its longtime employees, eventually introducing their own families to Tamura's.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
A shopper wanders the aisles, pondering the vast
selections at Tamura Superette in Waianae.

Residents say Tamura's is a place of familiarity in a time when so many changes are going on, in the community, the state, the world.

"It's a landmark, said Al Aduca, a bartender. "You mention Tamura's and everybody knows where it is." Aduca, 46, has shopped here from "little kid days," often popping in for a bite to eat or for much-needed groceries after a long day of surfing.

"You meet lots of people, old friends. It's like a community board over here."

Mary Aipolani, vice president of the Waianae Coast Community Health Center Board, also has fond memories of the store.

"There was a point in time when the Tamuras knew everybody. They used to give out candy at Christmas, and they always knew who already got candy and who didn't," she said. "You couldn't get candy twice."

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Copy-photo of K. Tamura Store in the early 1940s at
the former Goodwill Industries building site fronting Old
Government Road--Waianae's main street at the time.
Katsuichi Tamura was the oldest son of
founder Maketaro Tamura.

The store has managed to keep its welcoming atmosphere and its low prices through the years, a factor that brings her and other customers back. What impresses Aipolani most, though, is the support the Tamuras have given to the community.

When Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992, residents were thrown into a panic. Customers needed food, candles, batteries, flashlights and the like but had nowhere to get them. Tamura's opened at 5 in the morning with owners and employees on hand to stock shelves, ring-up purchases and bag them.

"They really tried to accommodate the community," Aipolani said. "They take risks, and I must give them credit for that."

But Cliff Tamura, part owner of the store, said family members aren't prideful of their contributions to the community; their cache of awards and trophies are stuffed into a small office on the building's second floor.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Lopaka Keliikoa, 19 months shops patiently
with mom Antasia Kapololu.

"We don't do things for the recognition," Tamura said. "We just try to help out when we can." It is the employees and the people who make the store what it is, not the family, he says.

Customers and employees say the company's consistently low prices helps to make their lives a little easier in these rough economic times.

"They have, to me, the most consistent and cheapest prices available, especially in canned goods," said Waianae resident Joe Lum-Ho, one of the first customers to enter Tamura's open doors on this warm morning.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Local fisherman David Auwae
unloads his goods at Tamura Super.

"It's a good store, especially for the people down here because some of them don't have as much money as they'd like so they have to make do with what they've got," said 21-year-old Antasia Kapololu, a homemaker. "It's cheaper ... and (with) the same quality as anywhere else."

Lum-Ho has been a customer since Tamura's was located on Old Government Road in 1957, then called K. Tamura Store. It had just changed hands, from the work-roughen palms of Katsuichi Tamura to those of sons Clifford and Herbert, who renamed the store Tamura Superette and moved it to its current location in 1969.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Karl Nashiro, meat buyer and manager, enjoys
some quiet time during his lunch hour at the warehouse.

Makitaro Tamura started Tamura's in the early 1900s as a plantation store. He turned it over to oldest son Katsuichi in the 1920s, who then turned it over to his sons. Clifford and his family took the helm in late 1995, allowing Herbert Tamura and his family the opportunity to follow a separate dream, opening their own store in Wahiawa.

As Tamura's crackles with the hum of employee laughter, customer chatter and the clatter of shelves being stocked and restocked, a family from Nanakuli congregated around three half-filled shopping carts outside of the laundry-need aisle.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Long-time patrons fill up their carts. Customers say
the store's consistently low prices help make their lives
a little easier in rough economic times.

Virginia Ching, mom Eleanor Apolo, daughter MeiLing Wills and grandson Cory Wills shop at Tamura's once a month, usually leaving with several wagons' worth of purchases. Ching, a City Mill sales clerk, says Tamura's low prices and friendly atmosphere makes it easier to take her time choosing products to fill her home's three refrigerators.

"We all live together, and we need a lot of food," Ching says. "My mom usually does all the shopping but it was my day off, so we decided to come shopping together." Ching's family has always enjoyed the camaraderie found at Tamura's.

"They (employees) smile at you, make you feel like you're not a burden to them," says Mary Ann Gouveia, a telemarketer and 20-year patron of the store.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Royden Yamane, general manager, with security cameras
behind him. He has worked at Tamura Superette
for 28 years, starting as a stock boy.

This courtesy extends to Tamura's employees, too.

"From way back we were like family," says a produce clerk who has been with the store for 32 years. "They treat us like family, help us when we need help." Loyalty and love for Tsuruko Tamura, wife of the late Katsuichi Tamura, cemented a strong relationship with the store, the employee says.

"The bosses are good. If they can help you, they're gonna help you," says Pat Sandobal, meat department supervisor. He grabs the huge hunks of meat passed to him by another employee, ripping off the white cotton shrouds and hooking what would soon be steaks onto a metal hooks.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Renato Lopez mixes a fresh batch of aku poke.

"There was a time in my life when I needed help, and they helped me," Sandobal continues. "Financially, and other ways. They're 'people-bosses,' at least, that's what I call them."

Rebecca Au, on an indefinite leave of absence, says her short time at Tamura's convinced her that she will "probably spend the rest of her time there." Her employers have allowed her to take time off to deal with her husband's recent death.

Baggage clerk Liza Lino, a sophomore at Waianae High with a wild shock of hair dyed varying shades of green, says the store's teen-age employees are also indebted to the Tamuras.

"They give young people a chance to experience working." Her hair has not been an issue at the store; she's allowed the outlet for self-expression. ("I wanted some excitement in my life, so I went Jurassic with my hair," she says).

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Alama Kalawa 27, and son Lihau, 1, eye the meat section.
Dad's been coming here "all my life."

General manager Royden Yamane says the store will hire people as young as 16, many of them the sons or daughters of other employees, to teach them about money while also providing them with it. Although they usually leave after two years, Yamane says his employees leave with experience, and enough money for proms and college expenses.

"We get to know the families," Yamane says. "There's trust."

"I love this store," says Au. "I don't know what the people on the Waianae Coast would do if they ever closed down."

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Mary Aipolani loads up groceries
for her son's graduation party.

The sun sets late this evening. At 8:45 p.m. customers are slowly finishing their shopping and leaving the store one by one, apparently unaware that the store's closing time was 15 minutes ago. The moon illuminates the last customer leaving the building, the entry door closing on the sound of a cash register snapping shut.

The parking lots now bare, the last shift of employees bustle about sweeping and restocking shelves, already thinking about the work needed to be done the next day, as well as the people to meet, chat with and serve. Another day in the operation of a community store.

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