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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Liberty House came through for local folks

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

It's hard to say what will be missed most about Liberty House.

After all, there are other places that have bridal registries now, there are other stores that stock up on the sizes, little and big, that are particular to these islands, there are other places to buy the same stuff (or better stuff) at the same prices (or better prices).

But in a place where people develop fierce brand loyalty over the smallest kindness, Liberty House came through for so many. Liberty House did us favors. Liberty House cut us some slack.

If you lived on a Neighbor Island, Liberty House clerks would call all the other stores in the state to find the exact item you needed and have it shipped to your store. You could buy a present for your cousin in Lihu'e at the Ala Moana store, and they'd ship it to Kaua'i for you, free of charge. Nornette in fashion jewelry got to know your taste and would give you a call when new stuff came in.

And then there was the very forgiving policy on returns.

Stories abound of people buying shoes from LH, wearing them for two weeks, deciding they didn't fit right, and taking them back for a full refund. Not only merchandise credit, but cash. Same with prom dresses. Same with stuff you bought and forgot in your closet for a year. No questions asked.

Liberty House made gift-giving easier. A present in a Liberty House box had instant credibility and inherent clout. It said a lot about you, the gift-giver.

Karen Hironaga of Kane'ohe puts it this way: "No matter what's in that Liberty House box, you know it's gonna be good. And if for some reason you don't like it, you can always exchange."

Liberty House was never a folksy, homey place like a beloved shave ice stand or venerable diner; and for anyone on a budget, it was a place to shop only for special things on special occasions. Though it hadn't been locally owned for a while, it still felt like it was ours, a place that earned its reputation of being reliable and familiar.

In truth, though, you could see this coming. The generous gift-wrapping policies got less generous. It used to be you could get the box, pretty paper and a ribbon for a $50 purchase. If you spent $100, you'd get a little matching ornament, too. Now, spend $50 and all they'll give you is a box and only enough ribbon to go around the corners, not enough to even tie a bow.

The blue-and-white hibiscus logo bags became blue and paper-bag brown, with more brown than blue.

They didn't cut you as much slack in returning stuff.

Sherry Clifton of Waipahu sensed change in the air even before those manifestations. She was in the Ala Moana store a few years ago to see a performance by Keola Beamer. She stood in line for the legendary musician to autograph a CD, but decided instead to have him sign her Liberty House bag.

"Something told me that it would someday be a collector's item," she said. "Now, I have two icons in one."