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Pahoa Cash & Carry to close after 75 years

By JOHN BURNETT

Tribune-Herald staff writer

When Pahoa Cash & Carry announced Friday on its Facebook page that it will close on Nov. 15 after 75 years in business, a tsunami-like wave of nostalgia swept through the Puna village and beyond.

“Thanks for your support and friendship throughout the years. Aloha and a hui hou,” the store’s general manager, Dennis Kitsman wrote. He added that the store has a closeout sale going on with new hours, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and that the store’s shelves, coolers, cash registers, kitchen equipment and flatbed truck are for sale.

Suzanne Case, a former islander now living in Illinois, posted that the closure is “like the death of a longtime friend.”

The store, like much of Pahoa’s main drag, is a throwback to another era when sugar was king. It still has the feel of an old-school general store with its wooden facade, blue-green neon sign and windows pasted over with eclectic public service posters, such as the one proclaiming: “Breastfeeding is our heritage.”

Shoppers crowded Cash & Carry on Saturday, looking for bargains, stocking up on food and alcohol, and sharing memories. Tenny Manner, who was a sous chef at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel before taking a job in the Pahoa store’s kitchen, said the coconut wireless had gone haywire with the news of the Pahoa landmark’s imminent closure.

“It sucks,” he said. “I like working here. I like this place, little hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop store, you know. And all these big companies build around. Longs (Drug Store) took our business; Malama (Market) took our business. Malama is local, but actually, it’s like Sack N Save, Foodland. I like this place.”

Honorah Domizio, who’s shopped at Cash & Carry for two decades, called the news “terrible.”

“So many people count on it. So many people, the little people in the community, come here,” she said. “This is where they get their smiles. I once asked a lady who worked here, ‘Why can’t you be closed on Christmas?’ And she said, ‘We’ll be the only ones wishing a Merry Christmas to them when they come in on that day.’

“When I worked for WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) and we had special orders come in, they would always get it for my clients, who knew that they could always count on coming here.”

Barbara Cunningham, who used to work at the store, called it “part of our hearts and souls.”

“It’s a special place and the people are always very friendly,” she said. “Back in the heyday, when I was working here, there were 15 employees. Now there are maybe seven or eight. We’re taking away the chances of some real-life people to make a living.”

The store is owned by the Hara and Kawamoto families, and although they no longer manage the business, people recall their tenure fondly.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hara were the nicest people and we all grew up getting stuff there!” Coco Murayama Nakayama posted.

Wrote Tina Aiona: “I grew up at that store and it was our biggest/main store in Pahoa town. Mrs. Hara is one special lady and I’ll always remember her.”

Denise Manner-Kalilikane, a store manager, wiped away tears when asked how she feels.

“It’s sad,” she said. “I’m going to miss the people. It’s very special. When Malama moved in, we were able to survive that, but when Longs came, that really kicked us. We used to be the No. 1 liquor store before, sold the most liquor, but their liquor is cheaper and we couldn’t compete with them.”

Added Lee Ann Enriquez, another manager: “The store’s been very good to my family. A lot of my family worked here. My mom’s been here for 10 years, my husband eight years, my brother, my aunt for over 10 years. My husband started his management career here.”

Enriquez’s husband, Mike, is now a manager at Malama Market, “but he still shops here and supports us,” she said.

Ululani Evangelista of Hilo worked there “when the Haras and the Kawamotos ran it.”

“It’s like family here,” she said.

Jodie Cropper said she loves the store “because they open quite early and they’re hospitable.”

“And regardless of prices, we love Cash & Carry. That’s what we do,” she said.

Michael and Susan O’Shaughnessy of Kalapana have shopped at Cash & Carry for 35 years. Bottle of red wine in hand, she noted the store “had the best wine selection for many years.”

Her husband called the closure “a shame.”

“Originally, when we first got here, this place had hardware, clothes, lots of fishing stuff, all kinds of items. You could get anything,” he said. “I’d tried to get as much of my shopping as possible done here just to keep them going, but nowadays, you could come in and see only two or three people.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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