Yamada Furniture Store Turns 92 This Year and has the Hilo Community to Thank
Kristen Nemoto Jay
It’s been 92 years since Yamada Furniture Store first opened its doors to its Big Island community yet the memories still seem like they were made yesterday.
“I remember my ojïchan would wear a panama hat, a double-breasted suit with long sleeves, and drove a lime green Cadillac,” said Carol Yamada Makino, granddaughter of the late founder Iwakichi Yamada and Yamada Furniture Store’s corporate secretary and treasurer. “Even as a young child, I remember he was really charismatic, a hard worker, and a person with a ganbatte (go-for-it attitude) spirit.”
A go-getter from the start, Yamada immigrated to the island of Hawai‘i from Kumamoto, Japan when he was just 17 years old. He paid for his trip while working odd jobs on the ship and networked to find his first job in Hawai‘i as a ranch-hand, hunter and horseman at Greenwell Ranch. The years that followed Yamada’s new life in Hawai‘i included many other job quests such as a stone-wall builder in Ka‘u, a sugar-plantation laborer, an entrepreneur as a soda water salesman, and worker at the Ikeda Shoyu Factory. It wasn’t until he fell in love and married his wife, Toki, when he finally came across a career change offer that would birth the family business.
While shopping for items to furnish their new home at Kim Furniture Store — formerly located on Kilauea Avenue — Yamada met with the owner who was in the process of selling his business. Without knowing anything about furniture or the business itself, Yamada bought the store in 1929 and learned as he went.
“He was always a risk taker,” said Yamada Makino. “He didn’t mind learning new things or trying out new adventures.”
Yamada’s chance on his new career turned out to be a success and grew along with his family, of eight sons and two daughters. Every family member became involved in the store including Toki who, in addition to caring for 10 children, was an experienced seamstress and sewed cotton mattresses to sell at the store.
When Yamada retired in the 1950s, his sons Masao, Tatsuo and Yoshitaro took over. Improvements under the new leadership included a rebuild of the original store with a two-story building, which featured downtown Hilo’s first elevator. Residents would flock to the Yamada Furniture Store to ride the new attraction between the two floors. The growth of the company soon required two traveling salesmen who were split to cover the north and south of the island, selling furniture door to door by catalog.
When it was time for the third generation to take over, Yamada Makino’s father, Tatsuo, was surprised and delighted to learn that she also wanted to be a part of the family business.
“I think because as a woman, it was assumed that the men in my family would only stay and help with the business,” she said. “But when I approached my dad and asked if he would hire me after I graduated from college, he was really happy that I wanted to come on board.”
Today, the family continues leadership of Yamada Furniture Store with Yamada Makino’s brothers’ Robin Yamada as president and Gene Yamada as vice president. The third generation has progressed the store from a manual to a computerized system and became known for having the largest showroom in Hilo. The Yamada Furniture Store’s fourth generation, led by Yamada Makino’s son, Gareth Makino, is using social media to promote and interact with new and former customers.
“I just hope to carry on the legacy of our family through great customer service,” said Makino whose been working for the family business for most of his adult life. “Moving forward I would like for us to continue to stay rooted within our community and to always remember that there are people behind the customer. Business to us is personal so we hope to keep those ties within our community strong.”
Due to the pandemic, Makino helped launch a virtual showroom tour that customers can set up by making an appointment on their website. Unlike other small businesses, the store has been lucky throughout the year as many Hilo residents — who had to transition to work remotely — began to invest more in remodeling their homes and office spaces.
“We’re so grateful to our customers for their continued support,” said Yamada Makino. “We wouldn’t have made it this far without them. That’s the reason why we’re able to celebrate 92 years in the business.”
Along with pictures of him and the rest of the family in their back office, Yamada’s legacy lives on in the company’s continued work ethic and consistent effort to make each customer feel like an extended family member.
Yamada Makino says their store provides more than just home furnishings to someone’s home. It’s the memories created with their furniture is what makes her believe she has the “best job in the world.”
“When you think about it, the furniture within our homes is more than just sticks and fabric,” she said. “We have birthdays and dinners at the dining room table. [Gareth] took his first steps while holding on to our coffee table. It’s these great memories that our furniture helps to create within our customers’ homes that we’re grateful to be a part of.”
In celebration of the store’s birthday this August, Yamada Furniture Store will be hosting a “Golden Ticket” sale. More than 30 featured items in every room category will have golden ticket discounts scattered throughout the showroom. The offer is good until supplies last. Call or text the store at (808) 935-1664 for more information. Yamada Furniture Store is located at 340 Kino‘ole St., open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free delivery available.