Hilo Hattie, with Mainland locations, started with a single Kaua‘i store

LIHU‘E — Hilo Hattie has come a long way since the days of the $3.95 aloha shirt and a single location on a dusty stretch of what is now Kuhio Highway 40 years ago.

What started in 1963 as Kaluna Hawaii Sportswear, a single store on a stretch of road between Lihu‘e and Kapa‘a, has grown into a corporation with stores across the state, and in Florida, California, Arizona and Nevada.

Company officials last week held a gala party at its most recent Kaua‘i location, at the intersection of Kuhio Highway and Ahukini Road here, to mark its 40th anniversary.

More than 300 people attended the anniversary event, which has become an annual festivity for folks in the visitor industry.

Where Hilo Hattie is concerned, that includes those involved with bus, boat and helicopter tours; golf, timeshare and resort sales; visitor publications and travel agencies.

In addition to being an outlet for Aloha Festival ribbons, Hilo Hattie is a supporter of Kaua‘i’s Mokihana Festival and many other cultural events.

The 2002 and 2003 Miss Hawaii USAs, sisters Alicia Michioka and Justine Michioka, were also on hand, greeting the guests with President and Chief Executive Officer Paul DeVille; Kaua‘i Manager Brad Gipolan; and Hawai‘i Area General Manager Felix Calvo.

Mayor Bryan Baptiste presented a proclamation to Gipolan, outlining the history of the store and its successes over the years.

Hilo Hattie over the years has also partnered with Disney, Sanrio and Kamehameha Schools on various promotions.

The Kaua‘i store, also called Hawaiian Wear Unlimited when located between Lihu‘e and Kapa‘a, became a Hilo Hattie location after the current entity was founded by Jim Romig.

In 1979, Margolis Manufacturing and Retail Company in Hilo, along with the rights to the trademarked “Hilo Hattie Fashion Center” name, were sold to the company.

In 1982, the Kaua‘i store was relocated to its current location, site of a former bowling alley.

The next year, more than 750,000 garments were sold, and Hilo Hattie opened its flagship store on Nimitz Highway on O‘ahu.

Through the 1980s and ‘90s, Hilo Hattie opened stores across the state, including Kona and Hilo on the Big Island, Maui’s Lahaina, and another Honolulu location at Ala Moana Shopping Center.

A Web site was launched in 1998, and that year Hilo Hattie ventured to the Mainland with a store in Orange, Calif. Now, there are retail locations in Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando, Fla., and Tempe, Ariz.

Sponsors of cooperating programs set up information booths at last week’s anniversary celebration, and patrons were treated to store discounts on garments and jewelry.

Pupu and refreshments were catered by Paradise Beverage, Maui Winery, Radisson Kauai Beach Resort, Kauai Coconut Beach Resort, Oki Diner and Kauai Bakery.

Entertainment was provided by Aloha Breeze. Door prizes included rounds of golf at Kauai Lagoons, jewelry from Maui Divers, and gift certificates for Hilo Hattie, Hukilau Lanai, and Sheraton Kauai.

Shelly Carvalho, the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club sales administrative manager, won the grand prize, a round trip interisland flight donated by Hawaiian Airlines.

Romig in 1993 received the Retail Merchant of the Year award from the Retail Merchants of Hawai‘i, and was named 1998’s Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young LLP.

Hilo Hattie has received numerous business awards, including the Governor’s Cup Award in 1999 and 1993; Hawai‘i Specialty Store of the Year in 1991 from the Hawai‘i Fashion Industry Association; five Kahili Awards from the Hawai‘i Visitor’s Bureau for “Best Attraction in Hawai‘i” and “Best Retailer in Hawai‘i” in 1991; HVCB’s “Best Retailer” Kahili Award in 1998; American Marketing Association’s Retailer of the Year in 1999; and Gov. Ben Cayetano’s Exporter of the Year award in 1999.

The store garnered this year’s Best Aloha Wear Retailer in The Garden Island newspaper’s annual Best of Kaua‘i poll.

The store is open seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Please call 245-4724 for more information.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) and mailto:kmanguchei@pulitzer.net.

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