Energy-Efficient and Technically Innovative, KTA Express is Much More Than a Convenience Store
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
To the uninitiated, the simple green-and-white commercial building along the Hawai‘i Belt Road (or Mämalahoa Highway, if you prefer) in South Kona might not seem like such a big deal. After all, the building itself has been a familiar sight in Kealakekua for some 35 years — first as the Kamigaki Store and then as a sadly vacant site for nearly a decade.
Besides a fresh coat of paint, the structure is now distinguished by a circular white sign declaring it to be a KTA Express, which offers the first hint that there may be more lying beneath the shiny metal siding than first meets the eye.
KTA Superstores president and chief operating officer Toby Taniguchi explained that KTA’s relationship with the property almost began years earlier, when the possibility of purchasing the site first came up. A deal could not be worked out at the time, however. The property was eventually sold to HouseMart, a family-run corporation that owns and operates Ace Hardware and Ben Franklin Crafts franchises in Hawai‘i and beyond.
HouseMart chief executive officer Wayne Kamitaki broached the idea of working out a lease agreement with his longtime friend, Barry Taniguchi, KTA’s chairman and CEO. Barry informed his son, Toby, who, in turn, worked with Wayne’s brother, Guy Kamitaki, to hammer out a lease agreement that was agreeable to both parties.
For Toby, the work was just beginning. Although the original Kamigaki Market was a grocery store, Toby quickly learned that the building’s interior had to be completely gutted. Built around 1983-1984, the building’s shell and roof were still in remarkably good shape. A few puka were patched and the building was repainted. Everything else — plumbing, electrical, refrigeration, air conditioning and more — was replaced. “The shell is the only part of the building that is not new,” said Toby.
The building encompasses 13,000 square feet of retail floor space with a 3,000 square foot mezzanine for use as offices and storage. ”It’s smaller than our other stores, thus the term ‘KTA Express,’” Toby explained. “We have to be a little more selective in what we carry. We try to provide things that people want and need most on an everyday basis.”
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Arnold Hiura is the executive director of the Hawaii Japanese Center in Hilo and a former Hawai‘i Herald editor. Arnold and his wife Eloise also own and operate the editorial and communications company, MBFT Media.