Honouliuli Shokai calls it a wrap after 81 years
By James Gonser
Advertiser Leeward Bureau
A store that opened in 1920 will close its doors for the last time next week, but few people will notice.
Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser
Quinpin Tagara, 75, waits for a chicken-feed order at the store.
Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser
"As soon as the shelves are empty, we'll be gone," said the third-generation store manager, Wally Murata.
Most of the shelves are already empty. A few items remain, including some old shoes, key chains and a shave ice machine marked "NFS" not for sale.
After 81 years, the building is barely standing, but many people and much history have passed over the old floorboards.
Once, Honouliuli was the entertainment, dining and shopping area for the 'Ewa district. That was before World War II, before a fire that destroyed much of the neighborhood and before Fort Weaver Road was improved and rerouted, leaving the shopkeepers to fend for themselves.
Sisters Betty Murakami, 83, and Kay Murata, 78, and their cousin Janet Yamamura, 78, were all born and raised in the neighborhood and worked their whole lives at the family store until retiring together in 1995.
The group gathered at the old wooden plantation-style building Monday along with Murakami's nephew, Wally Murata, 54, to talk about the old days.
"On paydays, the plantation workers would all come down in the back of a truck and pay their bills," Murakami said, recalling how her father, Katsuhei Murata, the store's founder, gave out too much credit to customers to keep food on their tables.
Katsuhei Murata opened his store as a tailor shop and expanded into general merchandise. In the days before supermarkets and department stores, Honouliuli Shokai carried everything a plantation worker and his family might need from clothing, to lunch boxes, to canteens to sickles. They also had a butcher shop and a laundry service.
Twenty stores lined the road through Honouliuli then, the only access at the time to 'Ewa Beach.
A fire devastated the area in the late 1930s, Murakami said. It was extinguished just one building away from the family store, but many other business were destroyed.
"It was a small community, with a line of stores," Murakami said. "A bicycle shop, a saimin shop, a garage. All those things in a line, but the fire destroyed most of them. One of the firefighters died."
The war years
Katsuhei Murata died in 1941, a few days before America entered World War II. Kay Murata remembers the bombing of nearby Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 that year. She heard explosions and climbed up onto the roof of the store with other family members to see what was going on.
"It's war," one of them said. Then Japanese planes flew directly overhead. "That is when I got scared," Kay Murata said.
Just a few miles away, the government opened the Honouliuli Internment Center for Japanese residents whose loyalty was questioned. No immediate family members were interned, Kay Murata said, but many other friends and relatives were.
The family's tea shop in downtown Honolulu was forced to close when the war cut off the tea supply from Japan.
But business continued in the area. Rudy's Grill opened next door to the family store and featured dancing and floor shows on weekends, patronized by workers and military alike.
Few businesses remain
When Honouliuli Shokai closes next week, just two stores will remain Tad's Liquor Store and a flower shop.
The Honouliuli Doshikai Community Association, which was formed in 1920 to organize community events, is gone. No one remembers when the group last met.
"They formed the club so everybody could help each other," Murakami said.
"We don't know when it officially died out," said Wally Murata. "Many people have moved out, and the people who moved in were renters or transient. The core of Honouliuli families, there are not many left."
Wally Murata said in recent years his business has been reduced to that of a convenience store for the few people who drive by. The front awning is a worry because it could come down any time, he said, and termites have weakened the structure. The electrical wiring is too dangerous to touch. The building and the property are owned by Campbell Estate, and he is negotiating with them now to make repairs and keep the building standing.
He hopes to retain a small portion of the store to sell chicken feed, his best-selling item.
"When this was the main road into 'Ewa Beach they had all the traffic for potential customers," Murata said. "When they realigned Fort Weaver Road to bypass this section, it really had an impact on the store. The people who knew the store came out of their way to shop here, but that is all."
Diane Agor stopped by the store Monday to buy a soda and beef jerky on her way to the beach with a friend. Agor, an attorney now living in California, was shocked by the big red and white sign out front announcing the closing.
"One thing that never changed was this store," said Agor, a 1992 Waipahu High School graduate. "I remember when there were only three stoplights in 'Ewa. My family always stopped by here on the way to Poka'i Bay. In one generation, so much has changed."
Murata said what he remembers best about growing up in the store was the communal family meals.
"Janet's mom would cook the rice over an open fire out back," Murata said. "The youngest would eat first and the oldest next. Mostly Japanese food tsukemono, fish. The shared meals was a real nice feeling."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly named the Honouliuli Shokai general store.