Stopping at Island Snow


POSTED: Friday, December 12, 2008

The last remaining Island Snow occupies a corner of Kailua Beach Center.

It's a combination apparel and shave ice shop that has been at the location near Kailua Beach Park since June 1985. It is also the shave ice shop where president-elect Barack Obama took daughters Sasha, Malia and friends during their August summer visit.





Island Snow

        » Where: 130 Kailua Road


» Contact: 263-6339


A concrete bench just steps outside the shop is where Obama sat with the kids, and the setting for the “;shave ice shot”; sent around the world.

Except that stepping inside the store today, one would never know it.

  The tidy shop measuring about 800 square feet offers surf, skate and snowboard apparel on one side, along with a small shave ice stand. It's a casual place, where customers can go in slippers, bare feet and swimsuits.

It's tucked in between a plate lunch spot and real estate office, and shares the center with a bikini shop and sailboard and kayak rentals.

“;I think we've got the best shave ice around, but everyone has their own opinion,”; said owner James Kodama.

Island Snow offers more than a dozen flavors, including pali lilikoi, lemonade, tangy guava orange, vanilla, Lanikai lime, bonzai banana, kuulei coconut, wacky watermelon, raspberry, strawberry and snawzberry, which is actually boysenberry.

Customers get three flavors and a scoop of ice cream, plus a “;snowcap”; - extra cream on top.

A regular cone is $2.50, a to-go cup $2.75, and a keiki cone $1.75.

What did Obama get?

A combination of lime, guava orange and cherry, according to store manager Free Arndt, who was there when he came in. The keiki ordered all different flavors.

Arndt said secret service agents came into the shop and bought items all week, a hint that Obama, then the presidential nominee, might stop by.

Then the motorcade pulled up, with the media in tow, and Obama walked in.

Arndt described the president-elect as “;a real cool guy”; who was friendly and in charge. But it was no big deal, since plenty of celebrities do stop by - most of them just like any other family with kids who want shave ice.

  The Kailua Island Snow is the only shop owner James Kodama decided to keep.

Kodama, 54, recently closed a deal selling his Waikiki store at Royal Hawaiian Center to Zumiez Inc., an Everett, Wash.-based chain with more than 300 stores across the nation, as a move toward semi-retirement.

The deal closed in September, and Zumiez took over the inventory, kept the same employees, and already has its name up at the Waikiki store. Kodama, meanwhile, closed the shop at Ala Moana Center at the end of August.

The Island Snow in Kailua remains the only one carrying the exclusive “;Kailua Boys”; apparel, as well as surfer/snowboarder Gerry Lopez's SRF, which stands for Surf Realization Fellowship.

Last week, the store brought in a few T-shirts and sweatshirts that say “;Obama Kailua”; in response to customer requests.

The president-elect is said to be staying in Kailua again on his return trip in December.

Initially, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which launched, neglected to mention Island Snow, although it prominently features a photo of Obama eating shave ice there.

The Web site also lists Matsumoto Shave Ice on the North Shore and Waiola Shave Ice on Kapahulu as popular with locals.

  Kodama says he's taking the road less traveled by selling off part of the business. The stores were doing well, and he was even tempted to expand. He had been negotiating with the owner of Zumiez for several months before the deal closed.

By stroke of luck, the deal closed before the markets and economy began going into free-fall. If he had gone on another year, he would have been in the business 30 years.

“;I have decided to relax, enjoy life, and chill,”; said Kodama in a letter to customers and employees.

Kodama got his start as an entrepreneur in college, when he first thought of opening a shave ice store.

The first store was at the International Market Place, followed by Kailua, and then the Royal Hawaiian. Island Snow expanded, and at one time, had franchises with stores on the mainland and Australia, with just a focus on apparel.

But Kodama decided to get out of franchising, and back to carrying exclusive brands at his own retail stores, which also expanded.

The Kailua shop, with low overhead and a staff of 10, has always done steady business. For Kodama, who lives in the neighborhood, it's a sentimental joy to keep without the stress of the other high-volume stores.

The Kailua store was the only one that sold shave ice, and now, it's the one he's keeping.

“;We came back full circle,”; he said.