Lehua Chang keeps an eye on her 1-year-old son, Kahiona, while tending the register at Ching's Punaluu Store.


The Chings' store has been
in business since 1935

By Russ Lynch

Ching's Punaluu Store is a country store and looks it.

It is a decades-old rustic landmark across the two-lane highway from the windward coast, with a rainbow across the facade and a Pepsi machine beside the front door. Behind it, farmland and scattered houses reach toward the hills.

Art It sells everyday essentials to the locals, rice and beer and two-dollar brown-paper bags of cat food, as well as extras like homemade Spam musubi, bread pudding and butter mochi. There are hot dogs and T-shirts in a variety of colors for the few tourists who stop in for a visit.

Like many country stores, it is a family business and has been a center of activity for generations of Chings as well as for the Punaluu neighborhood. It is the part of a family that has worked together and lived together and stayed close through the years.

Carlton Q.P. Ching is the third-generation manager, helped by his wife, Leigh. Carlton and his father, Godfrey W.K. Ching, and Carlton's brother Patrick Q.Y. Ching bought the business in 1984 from other family members.

Carlton, 42, and Godfrey, 72, reminisced recently while customers trickled in to pick up one or two grocery items or a can of soda or a newspaper and to pass the time of day.

Godfrey is the ninth of 16 children of store founder Yan Quong Ching, himself the enterprising son of an immigrant from China who grew rice in Punaluu paddy fields.

Yan Quong worked on his father's rice plantation and in 1915 started hauling produce and rice in a truck from Punaluu to Honolulu, sometimes taking as long as three days. For a time, he ran a taxi service, carrying passengers to and from Honolulu for a dollar a ride when the Pali tunnel was still nearly half a century in the future.

Then, in 1935, Yan Quong opened the first Ching's store, when Godfrey was about 5 years old. Yan Quong died in November 1987.

The front of Ching's Punaluu Store.

"We all worked in the store when we were kids," Godfrey said.

The family lived next to the store. He remembers the old gasoline pump outside.

"It wasn't electric," he said. The operator, often one of the kids, had to crank the handle until it pumped five gallons into a container and then run it off into the car or truck by gravity.

Godfrey remembers he and his brothers and sisters going to school in Kahuku, sometimes hitching rides on cane trucks heading to and from the Kahuku sugar mill. After school, they'd help out in the store.

"We didn't have too much to do in those days. There were no organized sports. Sometimes we'd all dive off the bridge over there," he said, pointing past the highway construction that has reduced the road to one lane and halts traffic for as much as 20 minutes in alternate directions.

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is laying a 36-inch pipe along the coast and says it will have traffic disrupted in the area until early next year.

Carlton Ching, left, now manages the family store founded by his grandfather, Yan Quong Ching. Carlton's father, Godfrey, right, bought the store with Carlton and his brother Patrick, in 1984.

It's not so easy to get into Ching's Punaluu Store right now with the construction, but Carlton said the dollars from tourists who might have dropped in are replaced by sales to construction workers.

During World War II, there was a military camp up-slope behind the store, training GIs for jungle warfare in the Pacific, and the Chings and other local kids slipped in to watch movies with the soldiers. The rest of the time life was school, working in the store and having fun along the coastline.

Godfrey still lives just a few houses away from the store. While there are family scrapbooks loaded with pictures, the most vivid pictures are not in print. They are the memories of the April 1946 tsunami that ruined the original store. Nobody took photos.

Art The kids were getting ready to go to school when someone looked out and saw the ocean had risen to cover the road and was still rising fast. Then it backed out, rushing through a gap in the reef.

The family knew what to do -- run for the hills. The first wave knocked over a pole, which fell on Yan Quong's car, immobilizing it.

But one of Godfrey's older brothers had an Army surplus jeep and the women and the youngest kids were all bundled into it, many clinging to the outside, for the run inland. Teenagers such as Godfrey ran toward the hills, where the family was destined to live in tents for a while.

Godfrey remembers looking back. "You could see this big white wave right across the ocean."

The store in those days had double sliding doors hung from the top. The store was not yet open for the day but the surge pushed the doors in from the bottom to let water in and the doors swung back and jammed under the weight of the water.

"The water pressure just blasted through the end wall," spreading soda coolers and canned goods widely over the sugar field next door, Godfrey said.

The store was rebuilt on the site where the family house had been, itself raised by family members in this do-it-yourself clan before the ocean washed it away.

"We'd go to school, come home and work on the building," Godfrey said.

The store didn't get finished for a couple of years because of the scarcity of materials. Then the Chings went to work on rebuilding the family home where the original store had been.

Godfrey graduated from Kahuku High in 1948 and there wasn't enough work around so he joined the Army in 1949.

Cindy Ching checked inventory Friday at Ching's Punaluu Store. Cindy is the wife ofPatrick Ching, part owner of the family store.

"I didn't know there was going to be a war in Korea. I spent all of 1950 in Korea," he said.

Once back home, he went into the family business, got married and had kids of his own.

One of his brothers, Lindbergh Ching, used to own Lindy's, a supermarket in Hauula. There is another Ching store, the Ching Tong Leong superette in Hauula, but it is by another Ching family, distant relatives, Godfrey said.

His son Carlton graduated from Castle High in 1978 and went to work in the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. After he bought into the store in 1984 it was two more years before Carlton and his wife came in to run it.

Aside from his childhood memories of always being around the store, Carlton recalls a lot of fun since he started running it.

"I used to leave the doors open, go across the road and cast a fishing line," he said. "I'd leave the pole there and sometimes have to tell customers, 'excuse me while I duck across the road, I can hear the bell ringing,'" meaning there was a fish on the line.

Carlton is busy in the community. He coaches the Kahuku High golf team and has been active at meetings on neighborhood issues such as whether the golf course at Kahuku should close. Naturally, as a keen golfer and with a son who is a rising golf star, he was against that.

His oldest son, Andrew, was captain of the Kahuku High golf team and now is a sophomore, and golfer, at the University of Hawaii.

Carlton said that neither Andrew, nor the others of the next Ching generation -- Carlton's other son Anthony, a senior at Kahuku High, and daughter Shannon, an eighth-grader at Kahuku Intermediate -- show any interest in taking over the store.

They are all looking at higher education and professions, he said.

But since he is only in his early 40s, that won't be an issue for a long time and there are plenty of other Chings in the dynasty founded by Yan Quong. In 1979, when he was 79, the Honolulu Advertiser interviewed him and Yan Quong said at the time he had 16 sons and daughters, 59 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.

Since then, the numbers of Chings have kept growing. And there's still one store.

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