KAINALIU — There was a time when Kainaliu was a center of Kona life.
Going to town, back then, meant dropping by Oshima Store, the single-story market on what’s now Hawaii Belt Road that in its earliest years sold hand-cranked, homemade ice cream by the cup. The store was rebuilt from the ashes in the late 1940s, and continued as an anchor institution that served as a pharmacy, tackle shop and community center.
“We were kind of like the biggest store in town, before all the big-boxes came in,” said Corinne Oshima-Koseda, owner of Oshima Store and whose grandfather, Kanesaburo Oshima, started the store in 1926. “We were like, ‘the store.’”
More than just a place to stock up on groceries, it served as a community’s heartbeat. From families buying groceries to kids stopping by for a sugar snack after school, to fishermen looking for the best tackle, the business was the community.
“It was like a gathering place at the beginning,” Oshima-Koseda said. “A lot of customers would come in and talk story.”
After nearly a century, that will be no more.
Oshima Store, which grew and adapted with the community for 92 years, will close its doors Sept. 15.
What’s next is yet to be seen, but community members doubt it will be what it’s been.
Building an identity
In the 1960s, the town boasted a Ben Franklin 5-10, Hakoda’s Builders Appliance and a bowling alley, a sign for which still rises, unlit, from the corrugated eaves of its 70-year-old building.
Those who lived and worked there were all in it together, establishing a neighborhood’s identity.
“So it was a hub,” said Brian Kimura, 64, who owns the fabric store H. Kimura Inc. with his sister. “Because down the street you had Standard Bakery … and we had the movie theater, the Aloha Theatre.”
Kimura and Oshima-Koseda both recalled the days when Aloha Theatre — still a Kainaliu fixture — screened Japanese, Philippine and American films throughout the week, a reflection of the community carving out their lives in the area.
But as the region grew and development gravitated toward Kailua-Kona, shops began to close or move out, and Kainaliu, for better or worse, changed and adapted.
Oshima Store, likewise, adapted to meet locals’ needs.
But the Sept. 15 shuttering will mean more than just neighbors needing to find a new place to shop. It’ll mean the loss of an island institution, a staple, a store shelved with memories as much as product.
“It just didn’t seem real,” neighbor Cheryl Pickett said of hearing the news.
Growing up in the area, Pickett would often stop by for snacks after classes at Konawaena School.
“It was like, for us, this store was a place that we knew we could get whatever we needed,” she said.
For Mary Jane Llanes, whose husband often comes by the store for fishing supplies, the loss will be hard.
“It’s like losing a family member,” she said.
“Everybody knew each other,” said Kimura, whose grandparents opened that family business in 1926, the same year Kanesaburo Oshima opened the store that bears his family’s name. “Everybody grew up together.”
Originally, the Kimura family business was also a general store selling groceries, hardware and miscellany. But it transitioned to selling more fabrics around 1956 under his parents’ ownership.
Kimura recalled the days of walking from his home in back of the family store and down the road to Oshima Store to buy comic books.
“They were all hard workers,” Kimura said of the community he came up in, “and cared about people, to help people and all that. I guess that’s why we were able to stay in business so long, too.”
Kanesaburo Oshima emigrated from Nagano, Japan, in 1907 to be a contract laborer on a sugar plantation near Ookala. After moving to Kona, he worked as a cook’s helper for the Greenwells in Kalukalu, ran a Kealakekua barbershop as well as a Kainaliu movie theater, which is now a parking lot, Susumu Oshima told the University of Hawaii in an interview.
He opened his sundry store in Kainaliu in 1926, later adding a barbershop on the side — “Because barbershop, you don’t need inventory,” his son says in the transcript, “you just cut people’s hair.”
Kanesaburo Oshima’s enterprising spirit also extended to a taxi business he started with a Star Car and Durant automobile after noticing local farmers’ lack of transportation.
In its early days, Oshima Store’s inventory included records and bread as well as sodas, pastries and ice cream. Susumu Oshima told UH his mother at one time made the ice cream using Carnation cream and a metal container packed in ice in a wooden barrel.
During the war, the store started selling groceries, including rice and canned goods.
After a fire destroyed the original building and inventory in August 1948, the family rebuilt, Susumu Oshima said, starting “from scratch again” with 1-by-12 shelves, a cash box and a Coca-Cola machine as well as an $8,000 loan from the Bank of Hawaii manager. A contractor, he added, built the new building at cost and Hilo wholesalers offered the family three months credit.
In a few months time, they were back open again, and started a pharmacy in 1955.
Change in the landscape
Back in those days — before big-box business gained a foothold in the area — Oshima Store was a place to not just shop, grab a snack or fill prescriptions. It was also a chance to catch up with neighbors as well.
Oshima-Koseda, now the store’s owner, remembers when she first started work in the store.
One of her jobs was to trim the green tops off carrots. She’d be paid for her work with one LP album or four 45s.
She also helped assemble tricycles around Christmas time, which would line the front of the store.
“That stopped after Kmart came in,” she said.
In addition to Kmart, the 1990s also saw the construction of Costco and Walmart in Kailua-Kona, and Target opened in 2009. While Oshima Store’s longtime customers still supported the store, Oshima-Koseda said, younger residents chose the bigger ones.
But there was something small stores like Oshima Store could offer that the big stores couldn’t match.
“You could talk-story kind of thing,” she said. “You can’t do that in a big store.”
Oshima-Koseda declined to go into detail about the decision to close, saying they’ll likely try to rent out the store space after closing, adding she’d like to see something similar to Oshima Store come in.
But for those who grew up with Oshima Store in the neighborhood, nothing will replace it.
“I feel so emotional that they are closing,” Pickett said. “I don’t think anybody can replace the accommodation that they gave us. They really went out to help the local people — price-wise and friendly-wise.”
Oshima Store’s closure — which doesn’t extend to the neighboring Oshima Surf &Skate — will leave Kainaliu with one less local deeply rooted business. Thinking of the Kainaliu where she grew up, Oshima-Koseda said just two stores — H. Kimura and Standard Bakery — are about all that’s left.
Like Oshima-Koseda, Kimura and his sister are the third generation managing their family’s business, and he, too, is noticing how times are changing for family-owned businesses.
“My sister and I, we’re third-generation Japanese immigrants,” he said. “But even for us, we’re getting older, too. And then our kids are all living in the mainland or whatever, so it’s harder for them to come back, and their professional lives are kind of established up there already. So they’re not going to be able to find stuff to do here for what they studied in college and stuff.”
Standing behind the counter of Standard Bakery, owner Lloyd Fujino recalled his younger days of coming and working in the family bakery. And whenever he wanted a Popsicle, candy or anything else, Oshima Store was right next door.
“So it’s kind of a funny feeling,” he said, “where a store that you grew up right next to is gonna close.”