A Kailua shop’s grass-roots approach leads to a pleasing retail mishmash
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 23, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 02:25 a.m. HST, Jan 23, 2014
As gentrification of Kailua continues, Steven Parker is aiming to create a link to the past. A cultural anthropologist by education and construction worker by trade, he put both skills to work in creating Kailua General Store, a place where families can enjoy a round of shave ice; kids can grab a fistful of penny candies; dads can pick up footwear, tees and Adoboloco Hamajang hot sauce for the grill; and moms can shop for accessories and skin savers from the apothecary shelves.
“Growing up, I always wanted to go camping, fishing, do outdoorsy stuff,” Parker said. “I’m not a fan of the new or trendy, the latest technology. I like old-fashioned, genuine stuff. I’ve always been drawn to general stores, surplus stores, and when I go out into the world, that’s what I look for. To me everything looks better with a patina.”
Retail was already in his blood, and he got a lot of advice from his aunt Brook Gramann, co-owner of Lanikai Bath & Body, as well as his mom, Mona Parker, who owned Lanikai Home + Style, which closed last fall to focus on the company’s interior design arm.
But mostly he trusted his instinct and background in cultural anthropology, which seeks to understand human behavior within a particular social milieu or subculture.
“Retail is also about analyzing your customers, trying to figure out what people want.”
And in Kailua, he said, residents and tourists want the same thing.
“They want something genuine. They want to relax. Otherwise, they’d be in Waikiki,” Parker said. “Kailua is evolving and that went into my thinking. I wanted to keep families in mind and have a sense of place, representing artists in Kailua and Kaneohe.
He founda space in the light industrial area on Hamakua Marsh, across from Bob’s Sports Bar and Midas Muffler, and before he even got the keys, he was building shelving and table tops at his home. Kailua General Store opened just in time for Christmas last year.
In the days before malls, general stores served their communities with life’s essentials, including food and home supplies. With most of those necessities provided by big-box stores today, Kailua General Store focuses on more specialty food items from small purveyors, such as Maui Preserved’s pickled Maui onions, pohole ferns and sweet spicy pineapple; Primo Popcorn, with flavors like “Raging Crab” and “Bacon Ranch”; and Adoboloco hot sauces in habanero, jalapeno and kiawe-smoked ghost pepper flavors, plus whimsical items that reflect local surroundings and an older way of life.
In one corner are bamboo fishing poles and fishnets that recall pre-iPad days when kids were willing to while away an afternoon in the outdoors, fishing with dad. There are also children’s books and old-fashioned toys, games and arts-and-craft items including stretchy lizards and toads, Rainbow Looms, Tiddlywinks, cards, colored pencils, paddle balls and kendamas.
His apothecary shelves are stocked with locally made soaps, soaking salts and other bath-and-body products, bamboo toothbrushes and old-fashioned shaving soap.
“Everybody likes things that bring them back to their childhood,” he said. “People remember going to Aoki’s or Matsumoto’s for shave ice, and now when they come here they still have to have their root beer shave ice, because that’s what they remember.”
And it’s not only kids who are attracted to the penny candies.
“Grandmothers and grandfathers dig through our penny candy and ask if we have certain things, like Mary Janes,” Parker said. “Things I don’t have, I try to bring in.”
Kailua General Store is at 171-D Hamakua Drive, across from Bob’s Sports Bar and Midas Muffler. Call 261-5681 or visit kailuageneralstore.com. It shares an entrance with 3rd Ave Shore, a boutique specializing in tropical wall decals.