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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, April 9, 2005

New owner sees little change at Kammie's

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

SUNSET BEACH — All around the North Shore folks have been lamenting the end of Kammie's Market, the cluttered little landmark mom-and-pop shop — unaware that Michael Tomson, the man who's buying the property, doesn't want Kammie's to leave at all.

From left, Gladys Kam, Carl Kam and Cobey Kam-Uhlir were relieved to learn that their store, Kammie's Market, will undergo few changes.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I mean, Kammie's is an institution," said Tomson, a former pro surfer, from his home in California on Wednesday. "I'd like to see it stay. I'd like to clean it up. Make it look nicer. It's not like I'm making any major changes there."

But the question of Kammie's closing has been the talk of regulars.

When longtime local resident and surfer Tim Shanley made his ritual daily pilgrimage to Kammie's at the end of March and spotted owner Carl Kam by the counter, he yelled out what many in these parts were then wondering:

"Hey, Carl, when you pulling the plug?"

"Our target date for closing is the end of April," replied Kam, whose lease had expired and who at the time expected to close because the current property owner was selling out.

"Sunset Beach won't be the same without it," Shanley said woefully, expressing the sentiments of many about the store that has been a local surf icon for nearly half a century.

Kammie's Market in Sunset Beach will retain its current owner under a new lease, welcome news for many North Shore residents and visitors.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

But now, Tomson, who also owns a home at Sunset Beach, said barring the unforeseen, he should own the property by June 16. He said he's confident he will have worked out a deal with Kam by then to keep the place open, and maybe even expand it.

No one's more surprised about the turnaround than Kam, who until this week assumed the store's days were numbered.

"I mean, here's this guy who's buying the building and the talk around town is that he's going to move me out. I figured they must know something I don't.

"And he says he'll sign a lease with me for as long as I want. I said, heck, I'll do it then,"said Kam, son of Gladys and the late Henry "Mr. Kammie" Kam, who died in 1998.

Kammie's is "the last of the three original North Shore markets," said John Clark, an author and authority on Hawai'i beaches.

Niimi's general store and post office in Pupukea was the first in 1903. By the 1970s, Niimi's had blossomed into Foodland Supermarket. The second, the Sunset Beach Store, which began in 1956 at 59-024 Kamehameha Highway, has since become Ted's Bakery.

Henry "Mr. Kammie" Kam and his wife, Gladys, opened Kammie's Market in 1961 as the third of the area's well-known general stores.

Photo courtesy the Kam family

That leaves Kammie's, which Gladys and Henry Kam opened at 59-176 Kamehameha Highway, between Niimi's and the Sunset Beach Store, in 1961. The couple turned the store over to Carl in the mid-1980s.

"Kammie's Market goes back to when the North Shore was just local residents and beach cottages for people who lived in Honolulu," Clark said. "It predates everything that the North Shore is today."

One person who remembers it all well is Gladys Kam, 84. She recalls her years at Kammie's (a name she came up with simply because she liked the sound of it) with great fondness.

"It was the beginning of the surfing time, and, oh! — that was so much fun," she said with the laugh of a teenager. "And then the hippies came. And they had the Duke Kahanamoku surf contest each year. There was an early time when he came into Kammie's. I think I've come across all the famous surfers."

Kammie's will always remain an indelible piece of the North Shore surf history if for no other reason than a well-known Sunset Beach surf break was named after it — Kammieland, straight out from the store.

The story behind the break's name, Clark said, began in 1958 when Mainland surfboard manufacturer Dale Velzy hired filmmaker Bruce Brown and a bunch of young California surfers to make a promotional film on the North Shore.

In the film, the surfers "discover" a surf break they name Velzyland — a takeoff on Disneyland, which had recently opened in Southern California.

Local kids who at the time surfed at nearby Kawela Bay on Gordie surfboards, made by competing Mainland surfboard maker Gordon Duane, began referring to their break as Gordieland, in mocking tribute to Velzyland. After Kammie's Market opened, surfers who rode the break near the store began calling it Kammieland.

Like other North Shore breaks, Gordieland faded from attention and is seldom remembered today. But Kammieland, like Velzyland, stuck and is listed on maps.

"It's a fairly popular wave," said Peter Cole, who was among the first of the California surfers to hit the North Shore, and who, at 74, still regularly rides the waves off Sunset Beach. "It's a nice little ride. It doesn't compare with Pipeline and Sunset, but when it's small, it's fun."

That first wave of Mainland surfers arrived on the North Shore three years before Kammie's opened, Clark said, but it would be several years before the area would establish itself as a surf mecca. That transformation was kicked off by the release of the film "The Endless Summer" in 1966.

That classic documentary by Brown — the same guy who made the Velzy promotional film — presented the North Shore's spectacular waves to a world-wide audience for the first time.

By the end of the decade, the North Shore had become what author and expert Matt Warshaw calls "the undisputed capital of big-wave surfing." And every famous, world-class wave rider who's ever surfed these waters since has visited Kammie's Market at least once.

"Kammie's Market has been the surfers' beer stop for 45 years," said surf contest promoter, Randy Rarick. "It's a genuine slice ... of North Shore life."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8038.