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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Kammie's closing at Sunset Beach

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

The Kam family ran Kammie's Market since 1961. From left: Gladys Kam, widow of Henry Kam; son Carl; and daughter Cobey Kam-Uhlir.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | March 31, 2005

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Carl Kam spent most of Valentine's Day removing shelves, selling or giving away what's left of his inventory, and scrubbing his famous little North Shore store Kammie's Market, across from Sunset Beach.

"I think Thursday will probably be our last day of business," Kam said as he mopped the floor of the tiny, cluttered store that has grown up along with the North Shore's world-famous surfing mecca since his dad and mom, Henry and Gladys Kam, opened the doors back in 1961.

Like many area mom-and-pop shops, Kammie's has fought a losing battle in the face of rising land prices, a changing North Shore and big-box competition elsewhere on the island.

Last year, just when it looked like the store would have to shut down by the end of April, businessman and former pro surfer Michael Tomson announced he was ready to buy the place, fix it up and keep Kammie's going.

But yesterday Kam said things hadn't worked out as planned.

"Mike gave us a ray of hope," he said, "but the last time I talked to Tomson, he was telling me that he was having a difficult time getting things done that he was trying to do.

"Then, in late December I got a letter from Quiksilver (a beachwear company), which had bought the place, that said I had until the end of February to move out."

Kam tried to be stoic, laughing and shrugging off the thought of losing the family business.

"You know, it's progress," he said. "Everybody in the family accepts it. Because, you know that when you don't own a building, when somebody who does says, 'Go,' then you gotta go."

Carl's sister, Cobey, born six years before the store opened and working the front cash register for her folks by the time she was 7, helped her brother clean up, looking a little sad.

She had mixed feelings. It would be interesting to have time on her hands for the first time, she said.

"But it's like anybody losing their job," she said. "Mostly, I'm going to miss a lot of the customers."

Carl said he had no idea what he'd do after the store closes, but thought he might try sleeping in late for once, just to see what it's like.

"You always have to hope things will work out for the best," he said.

Jerry Coffman, who runs Sunset Pizza next to Kammie's, was also getting ready to shut down. While Kam said he had heard nothing about what might be going in, Coffman said he has heard some talk.

"One way or the other, the whole place is going down," Coffman said. "There's going to be a big surf shop and a small market, and maybe something like a deli. We'll be closing before the end of the month. We've got to get all these pizza ovens out, and clean up."

According to author and Hawai'i beach authority John Clark, Kammie's Market dates back to the time the North Shore's big waves were only beginning to be discovered by California surfers, who swarmed to the coast and helped turn it into an "endless summer."

When Kammie's first opened. it was one of a handful of businesses on O'ahu's northern coast, which was little more than local residents and beach cottages.

Once the surfers arrived in full force, Kammie's, across from Sunset Beach, was a must stop for virtually every famous surfer in the book. Kammie's, for which the well-known Kammieland surf break was named, became an institution.

Last year Gladys Kam, whose husband died in 1998, fondly recalled how delightful it all was back in those simpler, innocent times.

She spoke with laughter of surfing legends and hordes of hippies coming in to stock up. Carl Kam, who took over the operation after his folks retired in the 1980s, also remembered the good times.

"Joan Baez used to play here," said Kam, who once strummed a guitar in a band that also performed at Kammie's on a regular basis. "They had a table outside and they'd all sit about and sing. Yeah, she was a customer, too, I guess. So, yeah, we had a lot of good times."

Veteran North Shore lifeguard Pat Kelly recalled arriving in Hawai'i in 1973 and stopping by Kammie's before laying eyes on Sunset Beach for the first time.

"My brothers picked me up at the airport and brought me to the North Shore," said Kelly, whose group, Surfjam, will perform outside Kammie's at a farewell party Saturday afternoon.

"And they brought me to Kammie's. You had Kammie's Market, you had a laundromat, you had a pizza place, and you had a little surf shop you had everything a surfer would ever need, right here in one little corner."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.