KAILUA-KONA — As the door chimes open to a modestly stocked snack shop at the West Hawaii Civic Center, customers are greeted by its unique shopkeeper.
“Hi. How are you?” Dane Alani said to a customer who walked in with her small child Tuesday morning.
After making her selection, the woman placed her items on the counter in front of the blind business vendor.
“What you get here?” Alani asked, as he used his hands to feel the products. “Sunny D and a bag of chips.”
He quoted her a price and the customer passed him some cash. Without skipping a beat, Alani slipped the corner of the bill inside a square device known as a money reader. A few seconds later a recorded voice said, “10.”
Opening his till, Alani gave the woman her change. He then thanked the customer and told her to have a good day.
The 64-year-old Waimea man has been running the snack shop, known as Dane’s Place, at the West Hawaii Civic Center for about two and a half years. His experience as a vendor started in the early 2000s while attending the Vocational Rehabilitation Center for the Blind on Oahu.
“My eyes have been going bad ever since I was young,” Alani recalled. “That wasn’t going to stop me. I’m not going to be homeless and collect welfare. That’s no life.”
Alani suffers from a hereditary eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which causes vision loss. He said he still sees light perception.
Alani recalled his eyesight starting to decline in the 1980s. At that time he worked on a family farm where they raised pigs and cattle.
“I farmed until I went blind,” Alani said.
When he could no longer farm, the Waimea man decided to go back to school. At age 50, Alani graduated from the vocational center in 2005. He completed certifications in 2006 to be a licensed vendor, and went on to run a convenience store at the Pacific War Fighting Center on Oahu where he also set up sandwiches, musubi and chili. He was also a cafeteria worker and vendor at Kunia Field Station Navy Base.
Alani has had these opportunities to work as a vendor through the Randolph-Sheppard Act, a federal law that allows blind people to run businesses, usually concessions, on federal and other properties.
In 2015, Alani decided to leave city life and come back home to the Big Island to run a snack shop at the West Hawaii Civic Center.
“It’s nice,” he said. “Kinda laid back.”
As a businessman, Alani said he does worry about people stealing or trying to cheat him out of money.
“There’s always someone who’s gonna steal, someone you cannot trust,” he said.
However, Alani said he can tell when a person is up to no good.
“They take too long and they watch me,” he said, adding he can feel a person’s gaze.
While Alani has enjoyed being back on the Big Island, he’s ready to head back to Oahu. He will run a convenience store at the Circuit Court on Punch Bowl Street. He is set to close up shop at the West Hawaii Civic Center by the end of the month.
“It’s good to keep going,” Alani said.
News of Alani’s upcoming departure is beginning to circulate among government employees at the West Hawaii Civic Center.
Jaslyn Nathaniel works in the Planning Department. She frequents Alani’s store as often as three times a week to twice a month.
“It’s definitely a big loss,” Nathaniel said of Alani’s upcoming departure. “But that’s good for him too.”
Nathaniel’s first words to describe Alani were “awesome” and “absolutely wonderful.”
Like many others, Nathaniel was caught by surprise that a blind man was running a snack shop at the center. He wasn’t a stranger for long and has become a fixture of the government community.
“He recognizes our voices,” Nathaniel said. “He knows us by name.”
Davelyn Barido in counsel services came into Dane’s Place on Tuesday to pick up some noodles. She said she comes to the store once a week and that Alani is a personable, inviting, good person.
“I admire him for having a store,” she said. “It’s a lot to do.”