First Saturday good for Kapa’a businesses

KAPA‘A — It’s not just about how First Saturday in Old Kapa‘a Town is affecting local businesses. It’s about how businesses are affecting First Saturday.

“There was a handful of us strong since the beginning,” said Angelique “Angie” Ell, owner of a.ell atelier and the one who first implemented the art-walk concept in Kapa‘a Town in 2009.

“Now there are more than I can count,” said Ell, adding that at the end of 2011, a couple more businesses joined the monthly event and “caused a snowball effect.”

While many merchants are reporting better than average sales in recent months as well as an increase in foot traffic during and after First Saturday, what is most evident is a revitalization of spirit within Kapa‘a’s business community.

On June 2 from 5 to 9 p.m., visitors and locals found the street teeming with art, music, food, crafts and attractions.

This uptick in participation is happening as many established local mom-and-pop businesses are passing the torch to the younger generation, allowing for fresh new approaches to products and services.

“It’s time for the younger generation to take over the business,” said Ken Kubota, owner of Coffee Talks in Pono Market.

Pono Market, established by Kubota’s parents decades ago, is owned by Bobby Kubota (Ken’s brother) and his wife Lynn Kubota. Their son, Robert Kubota, is taking the helm, and on First Saturday, is serving up some fresh ideas.

Along with the market’s popular kalua pork plate lunches, Robert Kubota and his wife Erica are offering kalua pork sandwiches topped with Erica’s mom’s own barbecue sauce. They also provide wine and poke pairings.

The Kubota family’s participation in First Saturday has an exponential effect on local as well as visitor foot traffic.

“My friends come here and their friends come here and they’re thinking, ‘Kapa‘a is the place to be,’” Robert Kubota said. “They come for the beach, the path, shave ice, artwalk, dinner and then they go home and put the kids to bed.”

Weekly menus are also passed out on First Saturday, and Kubota says those customers come back on subsequent days.

Vicky Masuoka’s daughter, Maile Bloxsom, has returned home from Los Angeles to take over Vicky’s Fabrics, and she too has added vigor to First Saturday, making her storefront available to a number of vendors offering homemade crafts.

The outside activity, however, belies the changes occurring within the business itself. Bloxsom, who has an education degree and was an accountant for eight years, is in the process of modernizing the business with more online communications and an active retail website. She said she is also thinking of increasing marketing and advertising.

Bloxsom said she was 9 years old when her mother first opened the store.

“I was lucky that I enjoyed doing what my mom was doing,” she said, as her own young daughter listened in.

Meanwhile, Bloxom’s mother still actively contributes to the business, teaching sewing classes in an expanded area toward the back of the store.

“Mom has been sewing for over 30 years,” Bloxom said. “She built a relationship with three to four generations of people. It’s nice to come home and see her sewing for the children of the people who I grew up with.”

Jeni Kaohelaulii of Work It Out, an active lifestyle boutique, is about as excited as one can get about First Saturday. On those nights, she invites local designers to do trunk stores, offers shoe sales, and provides do-it-yourself recycle and tote activities. Her excitement spreads to her customers.

“Save dinner for eating here tonight on First Saturday,” Kaohelaulii told customer Marjorie Ray, a Mainland visitor who has been returning to Kaua‘i for decades.

“So much is going on here. Kapa‘a has really come up,” Ray said.

Kaohelaulii is also a child of local entrepreneurs. Her parents, Jon and Juliet Kaohelaulii, are owners of Sole Mates at the Coconut Marketplace.

In 2008, an ambitious business plan for the store was pared down because of a softening economy. But with the support of her parents, partial funding from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and American Savings Bank, she opened the doors.

“At first, I took baby steps with growing inventory and kept bills low,” Kaohelaulii said. “The first year, I didn’t take a paycheck.”

She said it helps her to know about seasonal trends and she doesn’t get as worried about daily sales. She said she is seeing a steady increase in sales, has a healthy mix of inventory and is seeing more return customers.

“Now I get a paycheck and I write a paycheck,” Kaohelaulii said.

A few doors down, Pilar Riskus and her son Julian were busy setting up Hula Girl, which sells tropical clothing and accessories. Julian has returned to inherit the store, established 13 years ago by Pilar and her husband John.

Julian attended one year of Waimea High School and went on to work in retail management for Hot Topic, then as an engineer for a recording studio in Los Angeles.

“I came back to whip the store into shape, cause a ruckus,” he joked.

Pilar said he’s already painted some walls from white to bright green and orange, which she wasn’t sure about at first.

“I kept looking at the paint and I said, ‘Oh no,’ But it pops, it makes the clothing much nicer. I think he has a good eye,” Pilar said.

She also said he has a knack for merchandising. This, combined with First Saturday and other factors, is helping, she said.

“Sales are up. Customers are now buying three or four items instead of one. If this trend continues, (overall sales) will be double,” she said.

Hee Fat General Store and Taj Beach Co. also lend a large presence to Old Kapa‘a Town.

Proprietor Jessica Guiterrez said that during First Saturday, she has been offering her employees first dibs at selling their “handcrafted in the garage” products.

Guiterrez is also a new retailer who credits her aunt, Mary Lou Mendes, for setting her up in business.

“She forced me to,” said Guiterrez, when the space at Taj became available. “I didn’t know anything about opening up a business. She taught me everything — how to buy, which is the best credit card company to do business with, which insurance to get, how to get the lights turned on, everything.”

Mendes owns numerous establishments in the Coconut Marketplace, including Bodacious, Bodacious Plus, Jungle Rain, Nakoa Surf and Golden Nugget. She also owns Kaua‘i Plantation Store on Kuhio Highway next to Kaua‘i Pasta.

Guiterrez said that on First Saturdays, she has been seeing a different mix of customers than those on other days.

“We see other locals and other business people checking things out,” she said.

While she sells mostly visitor-related products, she said she has added items such as shave ice to bring in the locals.

Manning the tent outside Déjà Vu on the north end of town is Sara Miura, fifth generation in the Miura family. She is the youngest daughter of Tad Miura, Jr., and is involved in the sales and marketing aspects of the business.

And she is the great-great-granddaughter of Mankichi Miura, who owned a general store in the same building in which Déjà Vu resides in Kapa‘a.

Throughout the years, the business has evolved and grown. The family now owns three surf shops.

First Saturdays “bring attention to small businesses in town and it gives families different things to do,” she said, as she helped her vendor Jane Kato sell Kaua‘i Crayons, colorfully shaped crayons made out of recycled crayons.

Outside Ship Store Galleries, John “Skip” Skipper displayed his unique local photographs while a vendor sold barbecued meat. Inside, the gallery was packed with people. Santiago Soto played music in front of his paintings.

Co-owner Tammi Andersland said she discovered Soto’s mermaid and hula girl paintings at Java Kai, the coffee shop across the street, and invited the artist to show his pieces.

Andersland and John Lydgate purchased the gallery from Fred Von Weigen two years ago and decided to “take it to another level,” bringing the store from the Coconut Marketplace to Kuhio Highway.

 Andersland said First Saturday is getting increasingly popular. “All our food and drinks were wiped out in an hour tonight. We had maybe 60 people. Before, it would last all night.”

She said retail sales have been good, with sales up around 65 percent in the last quarter. “More merchants are involved and more people are coming,” she said.

At Java Kai, owners Sean and Xochitl Garcia , who in 2011 purchased the café from Xochitl’s mom, Debra Elkins, had their three kids in tow. Outside, Mary Nakamura of Ten Thousand Hands was selling cards made with paintings created by one of the Garcia children as well as by Nakamura’s other students.

A couple doors down, Lisabeth Fletcher, owner of Paradise Beauty since 1998, was giving landlord Rick Scott a haircut outside the shop in front of its shimmering neon signs.

She said the last couple of First Saturdays have been busy. “There was nobody coming down here before,” she said.

Currently, she said, business is up about 40 percent, which she also attributes to a complete interior renovation and creating a website.

In the alley next to the Dragon Building at the ABC Store intersection, Kathy Cowan draws customers to First Saturdays with live music, dancing and culinary arts.

She has been on the island for 30 years, handcrafting jewelry using local and U.S. materials.

She opened Alley Kat Art two years ago, producing her pieces in the store and offering other similar artists a venue for their jewelry and art.

“It really works to see an artist at work. They know it came from here and they’re here so they have a personal connection,” Cowan said.

Her participation in the community is to be “a light in the alley,” she said. “When you lift somebody up, everybody is lifted, including yourself.”

That’s exactly what the merchants on First Saturday in Old Kapa‘a Town are doing and it seems to be doing its magic for business, visitors and locals alike.

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