Sunday, February 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 4, 2001

Kama'aina holds line against Kona time

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

HOLUALOA, Hawaii - Seventy-six-year-old Kona native Rikio (Strong Boy) Sasaki is waging single-handed combat with the 21st century at the school bus stop.

His supporting army is staffed by first graders and up. Their weapons; ice cream bars.

Historic preservation is usually left to foundations endowed by wealthy patrons. Sasaki fights alone in the store his father built in 1919, next to the Tong Wo Tong cemetery gate.

His cash register broke so he has to crank it by hand. Rock-throwing rowdies have broken so many of the front window panes that he has boarded them up. He’s lucky if the store takes in $100 a day. He survives on that and Social Security.

His credentials are impeccable.

Sasaki sold the first bicycle in Kona when everybody said he was crazy. He still keeps a set of spare parts handy in plastic beef jerky cans on a shelf above the cooler.

Historic events have taken place at Sasaki’s store. Three-year-old Lilhau Matsuoka once set out from home, penniless and alone. His parents found him at Sasaki’s store eating a free ice cream.

This is where Janice and Wayne Furuto found the little red wagon one of their children wanted for Christmas.

Kona history flows out effortlessly from under Sasaki’s droopy mustache. He said there was already a Chinese community in Holualoa when his father built the Tong Wo Tong cemetery gate in 1904.

"My father could do anything," he said. "Children get cut; my father put on his own medicine. He built water tanks; don’t leak a drop. Everybody used rock foundation. Earthquake comes, the water tanks fall down. My father made his foundation of wood triangles. Never budge."

In his teens, Sasaki tried selling newspaper subscriptions door to door, but coffee farmers didn’t read newspapers. He pioneered the bicycle market in Kona with a Schwinn shipped by steamer from Honolulu by Eki Cyclery on King Street.

The bicycle sold right away and Sasaki ordered more. Then he had to learn how to fix them.

Now he’s alone, some of the shelves bare. In the 1970s, the new highway bypassed the store. Sasaki’s brother said, "You won’t last five years." He did.

He used to sell gas. Then, under the new environmental laws, his old gas tanks became a hazard. Sasaki had to spend $11,000 to take the tanks out.

Kids who threw rocks through his windows at night made him so tense that he ended up in the hospital.

But the school buses still pick up and drop off students in front of the store. Sasaki gives away as much ice cream as he sells. "That’s what makes America great," he said.

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