Local souls


POSTED: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hawaii's retail market is a unique mix of mainland and local chains, mom-and-pop shops and even an historic Japanese department store. Island shoppers have embraced stores such as Longs and Shirokiya as their own despite getting established far from Hawaii. Some local mom-and-pop stores, meanwhile, grew into statewide chains through the decades.


Business survived 2 fires and 3 near-bankruptcies

Despite fires that burned the business down twice and nearly going bankrupt three times, City Mill has survived for more than a century to become one of Hawaii's leading hardware retailers.

The business was founded by Chinese immigrant Chung Kun Ai in 1899 when Ai started his own company after working for plantation owner, rancher and businessman James Dowsett.

City Mill started as a lumber importing and rice milling enterprise in Chinatown. Eight months after he opened its doors, the store burned down in the great Chinatown Fire of 1900.

Fire struck again in 1919, but Ai was able to rebuild.

The flagship retail store on Nimitz Highway opened in 1950. There are now eight stores on Oahu, run by two of Ai's grandchildren.

Inside the company offices is Dowsett's swivel chair and desk, purchased by Ai after his mentor's death. Ai credited Dowsett with giving him his start and never forgot his roots.

Craig Gima, Star-Bulletin


Supermarket hit now moving to upscale brand

When Foodland's first store opened 61 years ago, it offered a format then rare in the islands that became an instant hit: the supermarket.

When that store opened at Market City Shopping Center in Kaimuki, store managers had to close the doors midday to restock the shelves.

Today, Foodland is offering another new format: Foodland Farms, an upscale brand with full-service meat, seafood, deli, bakery and produce departments. The first Foodland Farms opened on Hawaii island in 2007.

The second Foodland Farms will open next year at the Aina Haina location where founder Maurice Sullivan opened his third store in 1950. The 25,000-square-foot store is closed for renovations.

The Aina Haina Foodland Farms will offer organic, local and specialty items along with an R. Field Wine Co. and a gelato bar featuring Hawaii-made gelato and sorbet.

The locally owned company has 30 stores in the islands, employing more than 2,500 employees.

Star-Bulletin staff


Furniture chain is one of the nation's largest

Strong family ties and dedicated employees are the foundation of C.S. Wo & Sons, a three-generation business known for its fine home furnishings.

Plantation worker Ching Sing Wo moved to Honolulu from Kauai in 1909 to open a mom-and-pop general store on North King Street. In 1946 his son Robert “;Bob”; Wo Sr. converted the theme of the business to furniture, according to Wo Sr.'s son Robert “;Bub”; Wo Jr., president of the company. The store's name changed to C.S. Wo & Sons Ltd., with Bob Sr. and his two brothers helping their father.

More than three decades later, Bob Sr.'s five sons—Robert Jr., Wendell, Michael, Bennett and Scott—joined the family business. With teamwork the store has grown to more than a dozen furniture stores statewide, making it the largest furniture and bedding retail store in Hawaii and one of the largest in the country.

Stores under the C.S. Wo & Sons umbrella are C.S. Wo Gallery, HomeWorld, Rooms Hawaii, SlumberWorld and BJ Furniture Mart on Maui. Two years ago the company expanded to Costa Mesa, Calif., with South Coast Home Furnishings Centre.

Rosemarie Bernardo, Star-Bulletin


Customers' protests saved Ala Moana store from closure

Shirokiya marks its 50th anniversary this year at Ala Moana Center, one of the first stores to open at the state's largest shopping center.

Two L-shaped carpenter rulers in Shirokiya's logo symbolize the business' early days as a carpentry goods store. Hikotaro Omura first opened Shirokiya, which means “;white wood store,”; in Nihonbashi, part of Tokyo, in 1662. Tokyu Department Store Co. bought the store in 1958 and expanded to Ala Moana Center a year later, the first store outside Japan, according to spokeswoman Anna Mae Sakaki.

Two more branches opened in Maui and at Pearlridge Center, but financial troubles led to their closing in 2001. Some 40,000 customers signed petitions and letters in protest of the near-shutdown of the Ala Moana store. Tokyu took a $23 million loss and sold Shirokiya to local management for $1.

Kimonos, digital cameras and an array of unique items flown in from Japan are among the items sold at Shirokiya. Its food department on the second floor makes the majority of the store's sales.

Rosemarie Bernardo, Star-Bulletin


Kapiolani home to first Sears

Sears, Roebuck & Co. opened in Hawaii in 1938 with a store on Kapiolani Boulevard, 13 years after the company first opened its retail store in Chicago.

In 1941, Sears built its second store in the islands on Beretania Street—a one-story property with parking for 300 cars that grew to three floors in 1946.

Fifty years ago, Ala Moana Center opened with the newest Sears in Hawaii.

It was three times bigger than the previous Beretania store, with 52 merchandise departments and a staff of 1,000 employees. The Beretania store was turned into the Pawaa headquarters of the Honolulu Police Department before the city built a new police building farther down Beretania.

Kmart Holding Corp. bought Sears in 2005. Today, Sears and its parent company, Chicago-based Sears Holding Corp., continue to maintain a noticeable presence in the islands, with seven Kmart and six Sears stores statewide.

While the corporation doesn't release local employment figures, it reports employing 291,000 nationwide.

Rob Shikina, Star-Bulletin


Mainland chain captured isle hearts

Longs Drug Stores has been in Hawaii for so many years, it's become a local institution.

The Longs insert ad is arguably the most read section of the Sunday newspaper. Its advertising jingle, “;Make Longs a part of your day,”; is familiar to generations of local households.

But the business was actually started in California in 1938 by brothers Joseph and Thomas Long. The first store in Hawaii opened in downtown Honolulu in 1954. There are now 45 stores in Hawaii, including smaller pharmacies.

Longs allowed managers the autonomy to make purchasing decisions, which is part of the reason Longs became known as a local store.

Last year, CVS Caremark Corp. paid $2.9 billion to buy Longs Drug Stores Corp. and its 521 stores in Hawaii, California, Nevada and Arizona.

At the time of the purchase, CVS said it will not change Longs' name in Hawaii and will retain the local management team for the near future.

Craig Gima, Star-Bulletin


Tour operator began black coral industry

What began as a store in Lahaina, Maui, has expanded to 58 locations on four Hawaiian islands, California and Guam.

Maui Divers Jewelry was a deep-water tour business in 1958, when it discovered Hawaiian black coral and began experimenting with it as material for jewelry.

The business credited with beginning the Hawaiian black coral industry has expanded into other jewelry, including a variety of pearls and gold, with various Hawaiian designs, some by well-known artists Wyland and Kim Taylor Reece.

Bob Taylor, Maui Divers president and chief executive officer, said the secret of the firm's longevity lies with the quality of the employees, some of whom have been with the company for more than 30 years. The firm offers an employee stock ownership plan.

For the third year in a row, the company was named one of the Best Places to Work by Hawaii Business magazine. “;We've been terribly successful over the last 10 years, and the employees have been able to enjoy in our success,”; Taylor said.

Gary T. Kubota, Star-Bulletin