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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 10, 2002

Kalihi barber hanging up scissors after 70 years

Outlasting the building itself, 83-year-old Bea Kishida makes her last sweep at her Kalihi barbershop, where she has been cutting hair for the past 42 years. She retired Dec. 31 because the building is being demolished.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Everything at Bea's Barbershop in Kalihi is old.

It was one of the last old-time mom-and-pop barbershops in Honolulu until it closed New Year's Eve after more than 40 years in business, and a step inside is a step back in time.

The barber's chair, new when the shop opened in 1958, is held together by pieces of tape; worn scissors and combs fill glass jars sitting on the termite-eaten countertop; and photographs of barber Beatrice Kishida's grandchildren tacked beneath a 1980 calendar show them as children, not the adults they are today.

Kishida is 83. She suffers from many of the diseases that afflict the elderly, including sight and hearing problems, arthritis that has deformed her fingers and osteoporosis that has reduced her from 5 feet tall in her prime to 4 feet 6 inches today.

But Kishida, who has been a barber for 70 years, did not close her business because of age or ailments. Kishida is retiring because the building is set to be torn down and she lost her lease.

"People like me have hard heads, and we just keep going," she said.

Thousands of customers have walked through the glass door now covered with plywood at Bea's, at 936 N. King St., which closed last month with little fanfare.

"Bea has retired!" a computer-generated sign in the window reads. "Thank you for your support over the years."

The sign was made by one of her 10 grandchildren, Darcy Kishida, who said it is a mixed blessing that she is being forced out of business.

"It's sad because her friends visit her at work and she has a good time. It keeps her busy," the younger Kishida said. "All the old-time shops are going, going and gone. It's good in that she didn't make a choice to retire; it is being forced on her. That way she is not giving up. She is not a quitter."

"I feel sorry for my customers," the elder Kishida said this week. "There are no old-timers like me anymore. I will miss everybody and this place. Some customers I had for 30 to 35 years."

Kishida was born in Hanapepe, Kaua'i, in 1918 to immigrant Japanese parents. Her father drove a horse and buggy, and her mother did laundry. The family of nine moved to Honolulu when Kishida was 6. Her mother pushed her toward a career as a barber to teach her a trade capable of weathering hard economic times.

"Those days, we were poor," Kishida said. "I was a rascal and didn't graduate seventh grade."

Kishida started cutting hair when she was just 13 years old, learning the trade hands-on by working in shops, primarily downtown. She honed her skills and dreamed of opening a place of her own. She married in 1935 and would have four children.

During World War II, she worked at a shop on Palama Street, and while other women barbers went after business from the soldiers and sailors who flooded Honolulu at the time, Kishida was thinking about building a client base and sought out the local customers.

"I knew someday I would open my own shop and then the locals would come to me after the sailors were gone," she said.

After saving enough money and with the support of her mother-in-law to care for her children, Kishida rented the small space on King Street near her home and opened her shop at a time when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States and "Gunsmoke" was the most popular show on television. Haircuts were 25 cents, and she averaged about 10 customers a day.

A dyed-in-the wool Democrat, she has supported the party over the years, and many Christmas cards sent to her by politicians are proudly stuck around the edges of the three large round mirrors in her shop. U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye and his family, looking much younger in many of the cards, smile and send season's greeting from years gone by. So do former Gov. John Waihe'e and his family.

In recent years, business had declined. Ailments forced her to take a taxi to work each morning, and her son picked her up in the afternoons.

Next door to Bea's is the commercial kitchen for Driver's Diner. Paulina Wong, who owns the lunchwagon business, liked Kishida so much that she gave her free lunch every day.

Roger Tamoya, who works for Wong, said the barbershop was popular with some customers right up until the end.

"We would see these older guys waiting in line in the mornings," Tamoya said. "They were customers a long time and grew old with her."

By the end on Dec. 31, Kishida averaged only two customers a day, and she charged $9 for a cut. She stopped giving shaves and cutting children's hair years ago.

"Children move around too much," she said.

Kishida plans to spend more time watching her beloved soap operas ("those haoles are crazy") and will travel when she can, especially to Las Vegas, where one daughter lives. In July, Kishida won $2,000 playing a $5 slot machine at the California Hotel.

"Now I have to pay taxes on it and give it all back," she said.

Family and friends are helping her clean out the shop, keeping what they can use, throwing away some things and donating the rest to charity.

Last week, a maneki neko, the Japanese beckoning cat that is placed in shop windows to draw customers in and bring good luck to a business, still sat on the counter, not knowing that Kishida has hung up her cutting shears for good.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.