By Bob Krauss
Hale'iwa store, in business since 1912, closes its doors
Surfers of the world who haven't already heard will be heartbroken when they learn that Jane Oda and Katherine Kawaguchi have closed their measuring books and are no longer making fitted palaka surfing shorts at the H. Miura Store in Hale'iwa.
John Belchez, who bought his first pair of surfing trunks at the Miura Store in the 1960s, was shattered. He brought a bouquet of flowers for the sisters as if it was a funeral.
"Nobody can believe it," he said. "Every big-name surfer has been fitted and is in their measuring books. They all got their surfing shorts at Miura's Store."
Belchez may be right.
Eddie Aikau was wearing Miura Store surfing shorts when he died on a rescue mission on his surfboard. Joey Cabell's measurements are in one of the handwritten books. The same with Tiger Espera and Reno Abellira. The measuring books go all the way back to Greg Noll, which is ancient in surfing terms.
The only consolation for Belchez, who now lives on the North Shore, was that he was getting the last pair of surfing shorts to be whipped up by the 80-year-old sewing machine still in use by Katherine.
What makes the store's closing so historic is that surfing shorts were only the latest important item of clothing for which the Miura Store is famous. Grandma Miura sewed a holoku gown for Queen Lili'uokalani. Grandpa Miura got his start by making canvas work clothes at home for fellow plantation laborers.
The Miura family survived bubonic plague in 1900 and the great flu epidemic of 1918. During the 1920 plantation strike, when workers were evicted from their homes, strikers slept wall-to-wall on the floor of the Miura Store.
You should see the pictures of the store from about that time: gleaming oak display cases filled with bow ties and belts and socks and fancy notions.
McInerny's in Honolulu wasn't any more elegant. Hats lined the walls: fedoras, derbys, skimmers, all carried over the Pali by Model-T truck to the Miura Store.
If you needed a suit for getting married in Hale'iwa, you went to Miura's to be fitted. So the measuring books probably go back to 1912, when the first store opened. Think of it, measurements of all those people for about 80 years. A collector wanted to buy the books from Jane, but she wouldn't hear of it. A customer's measurements are sacred.
FROM FIELD TO SURF
Making palaka (Hawaiian for plaid) surfing shorts came naturally after making so many palaka work shirts.
"Palaka fabric comes from England," Jane explained. "The pattern isn't printed on. It's woven in."
Before you get confused, we'd better start at the beginning, when two brothers named Miura arrived from Japan in 1895 aboard the steamer Mount Lebanon. One brother went on to California and planted strawberries in Orange County. He became a millionaire when Walt Disney bought his strawberry farm for a parking lot at Disneyland.
The other brother was Husakichi, who went to work in Hawai'i's sugar fields, first on Kaua'i, then Waipahu, then 'Aiea and finally at Waialua. Husakichi was a bright, enterprising young man. He learned to speak fluent Hawaiian.
In 1901, he brought over a picture bride who was a seamstress.
She taught Husakichi to sew. He moonlighted as a tailor at home, selling work clothes to his plantation buddies, making deliveries by horse and buggy. In the meantime, he got a job as Hawaiian interpreter in the courthouse at Hale'iwa. At the courthouse, he learned when a parcel of land went up for auction because the owner hadn't paid the property tax. Husakichi bought property little by little, borrowing from tanomoshi or informal community lending groups because the haole banks wouldn't loan him money.
Tragedy struck during a rice shortage in Hale'iwa. Husakichi borrowed money from his friends, went to Japan and invested in a cargo of rice, hoping to make a big profit. But the ship sprung a leak, and the rice got wet. He had to sell property to pay back his friends.
In 1912, he opened a store where the North Shore Market Place is now. It burned down in 1918, so he moved to the other end of Hale'iwa, where the Miura Store is now located: the red frame building with a false front beside a big tree with a sign that says, "Beware of the Bumble Bees."
The Hale'iwa telephone exchange used to be in back of the store. When it closed, Husakichi's son incorporated it into the store. Both Jane and Katherine were born in back.
The kitchen, cupboard, toilet, and sink look like a movie set for a 1890 plantation camp house.
Eventually, Jane's mother took over the store in addition to raising eight children. Then Jane became the boss because her brothers didn't show interest. By the time customers stopped buying derby hats, and men's suits and plantation work clothes, surfers had discovered Hale'iwa. Palaka surfing shorts with cargo pockets from Miura Store became the rage. Jane's son Steven began making aloha shirts and mu'umu'us in 2002.
"The surfers were all 17 and 18," Belchez said. "Jane and Katherine were our hanai aunties. No matter how busy they were, they always stopped what they were doing when we came in, and talked to us.
"Every surfer who ever came to the North Shore had to have a pair of Miura Store palakas with coconut buttons."
A display case back by the sewing machines contains the family treasures: original shave-ice tools that look like carpenters' planes, the Japanese lunch tin that Jane carried to school, the family Kodaks, good-luck dolls, a blue willow-pattern plate. There's a family photo album with pictures of the store interior in 1926 and of Grandpa Miura on his horse that he stabled at Dillingham Ranch in return for shoveling manure. Sewing patterns hanging in the hall go back to 1930.
Katherine has been sewing on the same machine since she was 14. She's 79 now. She and Jane closed the store on Wednesday.
Jane said she'll miss talking to the people who wander in.
"But I'm tired," she said. "I'll do some sewing to keep busy, but I'm not taking new customers."
Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.