A LIFETIME OF MINDING THE STORE
BY MAILE MELROSE
Among Waimea's many fine stores and many fine storekeepers, one store
and one person stand out as being truly unique and completely irreplaceable.
What and who could this be?
First of all, no other store is painted such a bright and eye-catching color, guaranteed to attract customers and lost tourists alike. It's jam packed interior holds such an incredible variety of items that customers actually do describe the store as being a museum. Even Costco cannot compete with the wide variety of merchandise here -- spurs, hats, shoes, baby clothes, kitchen gadgets, lettuce, Ii hing mui-flavored gummy bears, hula skirts, costume jewelry and lots of it draped from the ceiling on slender bamboo poles.
As for the proprietor, no other storekeeper in town has been selling sacks of rice and bags of poi, non-stop, since the days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite her fifty-seven years of Waimea shopkeeping experience, her fingers still fly over the keys of the cash register with skill and precision. Just months away from her eighty-sixth birthday, she works at least half a day behind the counter, seven days a week. And, that is after cleaning up her house and doing a little laundry in the morning. In her free time, she enjoys "mild exercise," especially the hula and Japanese Bon dancing. Her favorite vacation spot? Why, Las Vegas!
Of course, our celebrity shopkeeper is none other than Mrs. Kimiko Hayashi of Waimea's one and only pink Hayashi Store. Perky, opinionated, and still going strong, Mrs. Hayashi is a delight to interview. In between customers and numerous requests for blue raspberry ices, she kindly agreed to tell me something about her life.
Above: Almost everything under the sun could be found at Hayashi Store.
Mrs. Hayashi was born on July 14, 1911 to Mr. and Mrs. Minezo Nakahara in Pa'auilo, then one of the many booming sugar towns which dotted the green Hamakua coast. Her parents ran the plantation store, and little Kimiko grew up practically behind the counter, familiar with the sights and sounds of a country enterprise. Tins of saloon pilot crackers, chunks of salted codfish, bags of poi from Waipi'o, barrels of shoyu, bolts of denim and jars of candies lined the shelves. Outside, tied to the hitching post--pack mules, riding horses and tiny donkeys patiently (or perhaps, impatiently) waited to carry home the day's purchases.
In those days, Honoka'a High School ended at tenth grade, so after her sophomore year, she rode the train to Hilo and graduated from Hilo High School. The Hongwanji Church ran a boarding dormitory for the out-of-town boys and girls, so Kimiko came home only during the holidays. A favorite pastime was crossing the train trestle at Hakalau bridge on foot to pick the mountain apples which grew in an aunt's backyard
After her marriage to Kenichi Hayashi from Honolulu, she and her husband moved to North Kohala to run the plantation store at Union Mill. Somehow, the hard-working pair came to the attention of Mr. A. W. Carter, Parker Ranch's eagle-eyed manager, famous for his ability to lure able employees to his thriving empire. He offered the Hayashi family the job of running the Parker Ranch Store, formerly located near the site of the modern Bank of Hawaii. It was a great opportunity and Mrs. Hayashi started work in Waimea in November of 1940 at the age of twenty-nine.
Waimea was a very small place back in 1940. Mrs. Hayashi remembers it as a town of about two hundred people, mostly Parker Ranch employees and a few farmers. Ranch employees got weekly allotments of meat and poi from the Parker Ranch butcher shop, and the Hayashi's were in charge of delivering Parker Ranch milk. "We had a boy with a truck," said Mrs. Hayashi. The road to the dairy on Mana Road was "a junk road, so every time we broke our spring." In spite of this drawback, milk deliveries continued. Back at the store, employees charged their purchases against their wages, taking home food, clothing, saddle blankets, kerosene and soap.
This routine ended abruptly with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Suddenly, quiet Waimea was filled with the hustle and bustle of soldiers, the thud of dummy artillery shells and the patriotic music of the Marine Corps band practicing at Waimea Park. Black-out restrictions and rationed goods at the Parker Ranch Store changed the way people lived. The impact of the arrival of tens of thousands of Marines on a tiny town -- one without any electricity, public transportation or community water system -- was incredible. Mrs. Hayashi vividly recalls the Marines' arrival.
The Magnolia Inn served hamburger patties to the hungry Marines
"At that time, we had rain and wind for three or four months in a row. The men had to just sit in their tents, they felt so cold. At night, cars with hot food and coffee parked around the edge of the camp. There were rows and rows of people selling food. It was Depression time, so everyone was out to make money.
The Hayashi family decided to get into the food business as well, by opening a hamburger stand where Lanakila Park is today. After a full day at the store, Mrs. Hayashi fried patties from 5:00 to 9:30 p.m. to make hamburgers for the ever-hungry Marines. She named her business the Magnolia Inn after the tall trees that can still be seen growing in Lanakila Park and near the Waimea Catholic Church. Once the last greasy spoon was washed, she headed quickly home to avoid the patrolling Military Police who, according to Mrs. Hayashi, were "really strict" about maintaining the 10:00 p.m. curfew and black-out regulations.
Although World War II ended over fifty years ago, memories of Mrs. Hayashi have stood the test of time. Just two days before this past Christmas, a seventy-seven year old veteran brought his wife to the store, asking for Mrs. Hayashi. "A lot of them come. They remember," she said. Waimea's wartime landscape has been obliterated by the passing years, but Mrs. Hayashi remains, a memorable figure, smiling from behind the counter of Waimea's main store.
Below: Years ago, Kimiko Hayashi and five of her seven children.
In the 1960's, Parker Ranch decided to build a new shopping center and offered the Hayashi's a store location. However, Mrs. Hayashi decided to build her own store. She chose the site carefully, picking a piece of land close to a place where her seven children had played happily when they were young. On June 11, 1965, Hayashi Store celebrated its grand opening. The Hayashi family was now the proud owner of its own business.
Just when everything should have been perfect, Mr. Hayashi suddenly died, just one year after the new store opened. Fortunately, Mrs. Hayashi's daughter Jean moved back to Waimea from Honolulu in 1966 and has been her mother's able assistant ever since.
Memorable moments for Mrs. Hayashi include the time Rock Hudson dropped in to Hayashi Store during his vacation at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. "I had him for thirty-five minutes all to myself. I was hoping the ladies would come, but no one would come. Janet Stevens came, but too late! He liked privacy, so I didn't want to bother him." As Mrs. Hayashi recalls, when the time came to ring up his purchases, "I was so nervous, I had to do the machine two times. I had sweat on my forehead."
Another time, Mrs. Hayashi recognized the actor Lorne Greene browsing through her shelves. Ever since she saw the movie, "That Magnificent Obsession," she knew his face. Dying with curiosity, she had to ask him, "Aren't you Lorne Greene?" It was a thrill when he said, "Yes." This time Molly Yamaguchi was in the store and got to share in the excitement of seeing a Hollywood star in person.
It came as no surprise to learn that Mrs. Hayashi's mother lived to a ripe old age and actively participated in many activities. "My mother danced at the Bon dances until she was eighty years old and always used to tell us, 'Come dance!" said Mrs. Hayashi. For sixty-seven years, Mrs. Hayashi refused her mother's request because she was embarrassed.
Below: A familiar sight is daughter Jean with Kimiko behind the counter.
According to Mrs. Hayashi, "in the old days," women used to put the Bon dance towel around their faces when they danced, so no one could recognize them. She liked dancing that way, but the modern custom of wearing towel around the neck was not to her liking. She did not want people looking at her as she danced. Two years ago, Mrs. Hayashi decided that she did not care anymore what people thought and called on a friend to attend Bon dance practice. She loved it!
"You have to use your head, keep time, move your hands, move your legs. It's hard for old people to learn, but I don't care--it's good exercise. Now I look forward to the Bon dances with the drums and the music." Mrs. Hayashi also practices hula and has performed at the Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival. She tried line dancing but decided it was too strenuous and, perhaps, a little dangerous. Ending up in bed with a twisted ankle is not Mrs. Hayashi's idea of a good time.
Talking about fun, Las Vegas is what she really adores. "I just love to play. You sleep when you want to, you don't have to do the dishes. If I had my way, I'd only sleep three hours a night when I go up there. That's the best place to go -- you forget everything-- the day, the week. I stay up late playing until 3:00 a.m., then sleep until 9:00 a.m." Although Mrs. Hayashi is quite petite, she enjoys all the food, especially the ice cream. Here in Hawai'i, her favorite dish is pork ribs cooked Chinese style.
A few years ago, Mrs. Hayashi decided to retire. "I thought, 'Oh good, now I can watch TV the whole time.' But I missed the people. I just looked at the bare, four walls. The coffee didn't even taste good at home. I'd rather work. When I see my old friends, then I'm happy."
Dressed in her pink blouse (pink is her favorite color), with her sharp eyes alert to the devious shopping methods of some of her customers, Mrs. Hayashi struck me as remarkably alive and vibrant. "I really enjoy life," she said with a smile. The proud grandmother of five grandchildren who live from Kona to New York City, Mrs. Hayashi is surrounded by several generations of family members. Of her seven brothers and sisters, all are living except one. Nakaharas are carrying on the family tradition of store-keeping in Kohala and Pa'auilo today. "It's all we know," said Mrs. Hayashi, ringing up another sale.
Congratulations to Mrs. Hayashi for her long and successful career. What a very dull place Waimea would be without her and her very unusual store. What sets her business apart in this busy day and age is that special item she always seems to have on hand -- the personal touch!
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