I still had some time to kill after my visit to Hanapepe and lunch, so I headed over to Old Koloa Town. I’ve been to Koloa several times, but this was the first time I noticed the historic signs on each building. Maybe because I’d just seen similar signs on the Hanapepe. Koloa is where Hawaii’s sugar industry began. The first successful sugar mill was located here. The buildings are old kind of Western style, like those in Hanapepe. And also like Hanapepe, they are now home to shops, restaurants, and galleries. OldKoloaTown.com sections the town into three parts: Plantation House Shops, Waikomo Shops, and Old Town Shops, so that is what I’ve done as well. These first buildings were in the Plantation House Shops section.
The Nishita Building
Constructed in the 1920s and known as Nishita Tailor Shop, this building was first designed as a plantation home, then the workshop for an upholstery shop run by Mr, Kataoka who also built furniture. Mrs. Kataoka made tofu for sale there. Masato Nishita who married Tokie Aoki of Honolulu worked for over forty years in their tailoring establishment. Although the town also supported a Korean and Filipino tailor, the Nishita Tailor Shop was favored for its formal suits and during World War II, its military uniforms. They were able to offer the latest woolens and garbardine material. While they both worked in the front of the shop which was filled with equipment, they lived in the back area raising a daughter and two sons. During this time the town was very busy and the Nishitas hired extra help from women who sewed out of their homes. The family enjoyed what they considered a quiet, healthy, country life.
Now home to Art House Studio/Gallery.
The USA Building
A 1920s building, the Usa Store was originally a house located close to teh town and the sugar mill. Its occupants included a hat blocking store and other retail businesses. The Usas carried a sign in their window advertising “Bicycles and Diamond Rings.” They sold vegetables, candies and canned goods as well. Mrs. Usa, who had several husbands, but no offspring, loved to take care of a large number of cats. To many she was the prototype of an independent woman. She was sought after by people in the Japanese camps for her talent as a marriage broker as well as for her psychic and spiritual guidance as an O-Kamisama Prayer Lady and exorcist.
In Return to Mahaulepu, Charles Tanimoto tells about his friendship with the Usas: “Mr. and Mrs. Usa were both Japanese nationals from the old country. They owned a small family store which carried a limited supply of groceries and odds and ends for the household. Both came to Hawaii as immigrant workers and like the majority of the immigrant laborers, were not highly educated people. Although they had been married for many years they did not have any children. Because of this, they became very attached to me. I used to spend a great deal of my time with them. They were especially pleased when I suggested to them that their family name for the store sign should be written completely in capital letters USA thus giving the public the idea that it was a patriotic store. As predicted, the sign provoked many comments from the non-Japanese customers which pleased Mr. and Mrs. Usa even more.”
Now home to Pohaku Ts.
The Okumura Building
Constructed in 1905 by Matsuichi Okumura, it is the only two-story building surviving today in Old Koloa Town. The Okumura family lived above the store. The general store downstairs dealt in general merchandise, chicken feed, dry goods, fertilizer, crop seeds, candies and other foods. The Okumuras provided goods for workers in the pineapple cannery who were their major customers. Mr. Okumura went from family to family to take orders and later delivered the purchases to the workers’ camp houses. They stayed open late to be ready for the pine workers when they left their second shift jobs. Most of the orders were charged and paid for later. The entire Okumura family worked at the store, including the young children who sometimes had to help their parents check against petty theft. At the same time the Okumuras regularly extended credit to those who couldn’t pay. Three years after the store closed in the late 1950s, all the customers had loyally paid back their debts to the store.
The Waikomo Shops
The Kahalewai Building
Built originally by Dr. A.H. Waterhouse and Mr. Omellas in the late 1920s, it was orginally used as the Koloa Post Office, and later as an Army bakery and general store. Before the war it was also the site of a watch repair shop run by Mr. Iwai, a beauty shop run by Ms. Tanaka, the Manila Tailor Shop and Dulce’s Dress Shop. The Ornellas family started the general store which was later bought and run by Johnny Awa. The people of Koloa remember him as a storekeeper who had everything imaginable in his shop which was such a total jumble of goods that only Awa could find anything.
I wanted to visit the Koloa History Center, but it was closed. I could only look at a few photos and things they had outside the building.
Shank 808: Saddlery, Custom Leather Work, Hunting Accessories. Hunting supplies + bible verses = classic combination!
The Yamamoto Building
Constructed around the turn of the century, the Yamamoto building was originally operated as a plantation camp store and later as a general store and service station. The original owner, Mr. Yamaka, also had a small hotel to the rear of the property – called The Koloa Hotel – which was generally used by “drummers” or salesmen who would arrive at Koloa Landing by steamer and travel through the island’s small towns to sell goods to the plantations and their stores. Another variety of guest was the Japanese traveling player who gave shibai performances at outdoor theater events.
The Yamamotos began to operate their store in the 1920s and sold candy and soft drinks to movie patrons of the Koloa Theater which was across teh street on the former mill site. Crack seed, coconut candy and whole dried abalone were the special favorites of school children who would stop for after school snacks. Nicknamed the Monkey Pod Store for the large tree that shadows the building, the store was well known for its fishing supplies, including poles. The Yamamoto family lived in a small wooden frame building next door to the Salvation Army building.
Now home to Crazy Shirts.
Old Town Shops
It was Mankichi Sueoka’s dream to provide a good life for his wife and children that led this poor immigrant from Japan to start his own business in Koloa, Kauai. In 1918, Mankichi borrowed money from his “tanomoshi” group to open a small store in the Koloa Japanese plantation camp. With his wife, Yoshi Sueoka, at his side, Mankichi worked tirelessly at the camp store. Read more here.
The Kawamoto Building
On this site stood the old Koloa Dispensary Building which was relocated to the rear of the property. From the turn of the century to the early 1930s the dispensary was the only medical facility for the Koloa Sugar Mill and plantation community. An independent doctor who was not working directly for the plantation, Dr. Yoshizawa, ran the clinic. It is the Kawamoto Barber Shop, however, that the site became a landmark for the town of Koloa. The barber shop was originally built by Mr. Yamada. Here were also a gas station, pool hall and beer hall, none of which gained as much local fame as the renown barber shop.
Tadao Kawamoto, the famous Barber of Koloa, stayed in business for 51 years at the same location, charging 25 cents per haircut until 1933, 35 cents later and finally going up in his prices at a very slow rate until 1983 when he retired. Kawamoto was the first locally-born Japanese who took up the barber trade after being an unpaid apprentice for six months in downtown Honolulu. Chinatown barbers who were mostly either Japanese or Filipinos tried to undercut each other by reducing their prices from 50 cents to rock bottom 20 cents per haircut. A shave cost 15 cents. Because of the economic depression at the time, Kawamoto was lucky to buy the equipment of a less favored barber in Lihue and used three professional chairs and well built mirrors and cabinets for his shop.
The building was constructed in 1931 by a carpenter named Yamada and leased from landowner A.H. Waterhouse for $180 annually. Workers of the time earned a dollar a day on the plantations. Saturday was a big day for shopping, as well as for haircuts and shaves. Kawamoto stayed open from 8 a.m. to 9 at night. He expanded to hire and apprentice and later taught his brother the trade so that he could open a shop in Lihue. His great achievement, said Kawamoto, was being able because of his youth, sharp eyes and fingers and helpers, to finish an entire haircutting operation in 15 minutes flat. Satisfied customers returned again and again for entire lifetimes and spread word of the Barber of Koloa who would “talk story” with generations of residents.
The Asahi Soda Building
Before the current building was constructed, it was the site of a taro processing poi factory run by the Akona Family. Customers provided their own containers for the poi which had been brought in as taro corms grown in distant valleys.
In the late 1920s new owners John Cockett and Yozaemon Yamamoto built the Koloa Ice and Soda Works which stayed in business until World War II when the operation was turned into a soda bottling plant. Ice cream was sold here by Tadayoshi Yamada. During and after the war, portions of the building were used as a music store run by Mr. Maladora, a rear room pool hall by Mr. Yamamoto who also ran the Yamamoto Store, a fish market nearby the Hamamuras, a butcher shop run by the Nakamuras and finally a bar which remains and is now a part of Pizzetta.
The Tao Building
Originally built by Mr. Toyo Nii, this building was first used as an ice cream parlor by the Shinagawas. Called the Tao Building after the Ichizo Tao family ran it as a general store and ice cream parlor, the Tao store served the Koloa plantation workers from all the camps around the district. Ichizo and Yuka Tao were born in Japan and were left with relatives until their parents in Hawaii could afford to bring them over at an early age. They met in Koloa and started their own family. On holidays like the Fourth of July, the often took ice cream and shave ice to the beaches where they knew people would buy their treats and they could make a little more profit.