Embroiderer's patches reflect islands' history


POSTED: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alfred Mitamura has embroidered everything from chef's coats to cheerleader uniforms, and has serviced some major companies since 1956. But he never got too big for his britches.

“;I'm probably the oldest embroiderer in the state. ... I kept things simple. I don't owe anyone a single dime. I expanded my business within my means. I never operated on credit,”; said Mitamura, founder of The Monogram Shop LLC. He turned 79 in September.

Business now is slow, and Mitamura does all the embroidery and paperwork himself out of a cozy compartment at the new Dillingham Self Storage building, where he's been since January. The rent is less than half the amount of his old location of 28 years at the Dillingham Trade Center a few doors down.

“;I believe I am the first in my business to operate out of a self-storage facility. ... Now that I'm in a smaller location, my overhead is also smaller. It gave me a chance to survive, so I think I can make it,”; he said.





        Owner: Alfred Mitamura

Founded: 1956


Location: 935 Dillingham Blvd. No. 7




Mitamura, a four-year cancer survivor, never needed to advertise because he was always so busy as one of the few embroiderers around 53 years ago, but now “;I don't really have enough to do.”; Business dropped noticeably over the past five years, and more so with the recent economic crisis.

His shop first opened at 1272 S. King St. One of his earliest customers was Spooner's of Waikiki, now Reyn's. He later moved to another spot on King Street behind Joe Nagatoshi's Golf Shop, across the street from Civic Cleaners from 1964 to 1979; then to the Dillingham Trade Center.

“;When I started, Liberty House (now Macy's) used to do some embroidery. I made logo patches for the Honolulu jail when it was part of the Police Department,”; he said.

All the patches he has in scrapbooks “;reflect the history of Hawaii,”; he added, noting that 80 percent of the organizations he made patches for are no longer around.

Mitamura had as many as five employees at one time, and serviced the Wailea and Kapalua Hotels on Maui and the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on the Big Island. The shop also did a lot of work for the Sheraton Waikiki, and still picks up an occasional job.

What he loves about embroidering is that “;it's so creative, and not many people can do it,”; said Mitamura. His father, who sold sewing machines, showed him how to embroider and repair the machines.

The most gratifying thing about being in business, he said, with his characteristic big smile, is that “;I have loyal customers. I'm here mainly to service my old clients.”;

“;My house has been paid for years ago. I got Social Security; I have enough to survive on. I don't really need to make money,”; said Mitamura. He's fortunate that his wife, Sueko, who died six years ago, “;saved every dime. If it wasn't for her ...

...”;I really miss my wife.”;