Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, September 3, 1998

Success of Kosasa’s
convenience stores

OPPOSITE Kuhio Beach, along the three-tenths of a mile of Waikiki's main drag, Kalakaua Avenue, between the Duke Kahanamoku statue and Kapiolani Park, are six ABC stores -- open 365 days a year from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

"Isn't this competing with yourself?" I asked the founder/CEO of ABC Stores, Sidney Kosasa, at his Kakaako office and warehouse. He explained why it isn't. Once he might have thought that way, too. But early in the ABC saga he opened a second Waikiki store close to an existing one to prepare for losing the first site to reconstruction of the building.

For the time they co-existed, the first store did as well as ever and the second store matched it in volume.

That opened Kosasa's eyes to the real meaning of "convenience store." Tourists want them located conveniently as well as to find convenience items inside -- discount drugs, far cheaper than in the hotels, liquor, groceries, souvenir items and T-shirts.

Now you can walk out of just about any major Waikiki hotel, turn either left or right and find an ABC store within a block. No need to bother looking up a street address or asking directions -- just take a few steps and an ABC store will be there.

Even the name is convenient -- just ABC, nothing complicated like "Kamaaina Discount Stores" that a tourist might have to struggle to pronounce or remember.

Kosasa, 78, grew up working in his parents' grocery store in Palolo Valley, earned a pharmacist's degree at the University of California at Berkeley in 1942, and was sent to a relocation camp, where he met and married his wife, Minnie. Released after a year, he and Minnie went first to a pharmacist's job in St. Louis, then returned to Honolulu, where he worked in a Benson-Smith drug store.

In 1949 the Kosasas started their own drug store in Kaimuki. Discount know-how came from expanding to pharmacies in three GEM discount department stores, now defunct. Kosasa soon was operating eight stores under the name Thrifty Drugs.

Kosasa's assorted grocery, drug store and discount experiences synergized into the highly successful ABC concept after a 1963 visit to Miami Beach. There he attended his first convention of the National Association of Chain Drugs.

He and his wife saw tourists converging on a convenience store on the hotel strip. Someday Waikiki will be thick with hotels like this, and its tourists also will want a convenience store to get away from the high prices in hotel shops, he told himself. There were only a few Waikiki hotels then.

The first Kosasa ABC store opened at Kalakaua and Beachwalk in 1965 with an initial offering of discount drugs that soon built to liquor, beauty aids, groceries, souvenirs and, more recently, T-shirts.

Today Waikiki has 33 ABC stores, mostly on Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues. There are 51 statewide plus one on Saipan and four on Guam. Together they sell eight tons of macadamia nuts a year, a low-price leader for all the stores, making ABC the biggest retailer of macadamias to be found anywhere.

ABC's overall sales of $152 million last year ranked it 37th among Hawaii businesses. This year, the tourist slack has taken only 2 percent off Waikiki volume while neighbor island sales are up significantly. In August ABC opened a new store in Kailua-Kona. Another is planned at Wailea, Maui. More may be added in Waikiki if new hotels open up. Las Vegas also is a possible expansion area.

All of this grew from Kosasa's ability to pull together his knowledge of the grocery business, pharmacies and the discount concept in a way that fills the desire of millions of tourists for convenience stores conveniently placed.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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