From Issei Entrepreneur to Sansei Business Major, Hirano Store Has a Rich History
Patsy Y. Iwasaki
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Buckets of rain had been falling in East Hawai‘i all week long and it looked like it was going to be another soggy and overcast day. But the gloomy weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of 91-year-old Mieko Nagao this past Feb. 17. Nagao had already made plans with her son Owen, visiting from Long Beach, Calif., to accompany her to the festivities taking place at her nearby Glenwood neighborhood store.
The celebration of the 100th anniversary of Hirano Store — the beloved and always reliable small-town business that has been providing groceries and other essentials for the small communities in the Volcano and Ka‘ü areas for a century — was definitely a milestone to celebrate. Judging by the long line of cars parked along the shoulder of Highway 11 (often referred to as the Hawai‘i Belt Road or Volcano Highway), well-wishers weren’t letting the rain stop them from celebrating Hirano Store’s 100th birthday.
Everyone who attended the celebration called the rain “a blessing,” including sansei family member Eric Inouye, who assumed the reins of the store 34 years ago. He and his wife, Lisa Faulkner Inouye, were all smiles as they welcomed family members and Hirano Store’s longtime customers and friends.
The festivities began with a mid-morning invocation by Pastor Alex Pacheco of the Hale Pule Keolahou Church and words of gratitude from Inouye. He thanked everyone for keeping the general store in business since 1918. The rest of the day was spent celebrating with live entertainment; free drinks, hot dogs and Hirano Store’s signature chili; and giveaways of T-shirts, plate lunches, coolers and other items.
Inouye, who is 60, wanted Hirano Store’s local customers to be the main focus of the celebration, for they have always been the backbone of the business. It was something Inouye had focused on even back in 1984, when he leased the store from his uncle and aunt, Wataru and Shinae Hirano.
“I want to take care of the locals, because they are the ones that will be coming back,” said Inouye.
“I have a business degree, so my goal was to have my own business one day. So, I was thankful when this opportunity came up. My purpose was to be my own boss and to have a successful business,” said Inouye, who graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa.
“A hundred years is definitely something,” said Owen Nagao as he enjoyed the festivities with his mother, Mieko. Nagao, who graduated from Baldwin High School on Maui, met Inouye when they were freshman dormies at UH-Mänoa’s Hale Aloha Lehua dormitory.
“We used to cruise around together a lot — football games, parties, nightclubs,” recalled Inouye.
“I had no idea and was pretty surprised about the idea of him running a store, of all things,” said Nagao upon learning from mutual friends that Inouye was taking over the store. On one of his visits home from California, Nagao, who retired from Boeing as an engineer and manager, dropped by the store and the two renewed their friendship. Since then, visiting with Inouye is a regular stop on his visits with his mother, who turned 92 a month after the celebration.
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Hilo resident Patsy Iwasaki is a former Hawai‘i Herald staff writer. She teaches in the English department at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Iwasaki is also continuing work on her historical documentary film, “Honoka‘a Hero: The Story of Katsu Goto.” The film’s trailer can be seen at katsugotomovie.org.