Local family’s businesses taking root in Kapaa

KAPAA — Juliet Ka‘ohelauli‘i had her children in the retail business before Macy’s opened shop on the Garden Isle in 2001.

“Jeni was in retail even before high school because I worked at the mall,” Juliet said of her daughter. “She worked — even when Liberty House was here. I would get my children involved in modeling Liberty House little kids clothes. I worked there, too.”

Nowadays, the two Kapaa businesswomen have their own retail shops within walking distance of each other.

Juliet and her husband John tend to Sole Mates, a shop specializing in custom shoes while Jeni Ka‘ohelauli‘i owns Work It Out, an active wear lifestyle boutique along Kuhio Highway.

“The family was at Sole Mates since the beginning,” said Juliet, who bought the business over 13 years ago. “We had some here since they were like elementary school. They would work and help customers.”

Last year, Juliet relocated Sole Mates from Coconut MarketPlace to Old Kapaa Town.

“It was a big move for them. It was nice because we got to do a whole new build out of the shop,” Jeni said. “We also felt the energy was stronger in this part of the town versus the south end.”

Though construction at the marketplace was taking a little too long for their liking, the family wanted to keep Sole Mates in business.

“This is more of a ma and pa feeling. It’s more us,” Juliet said. “We have great neighbors now.”

John said he enjoys every moment he spends with his family.

It’s the mom and pop business that are the root of the Hawaiian economy, he said.

“These stores really stand for what community is all about,” he said.

The move meant being closer to Jeni’s store, which opened up in 2008.

“It’s good because I can call her and she can call me to get lunch,” Juliet said. “I think it’s always a good thing with family.”

As far as owning her own business, Jeni was heavily influenced by her parents.

“I was really young when I first opened. I was still in my early 20s, so without really realizing what a big responsibility it was — I did know it was a big responsibility — I might have know how hard it would have been in the very beginning years,” Jeni said.

One area of business Jeni learned from her mom was staying innovative.

“My mom has been really good at finding brands before they explode,” she said. “For instance, they’ve had the Hydro Flask for six or seven years. It’s inspiring when I go on buying trips to find that next ‘pop’ product.”

One challenge the retail business faces, Juliet said, is online shopping.

“More people are buying online, so the money isn’t staying in the community. It’s just a little hard,” she said. “Or customers come in, try on and tell us they’re going to buy it online.”

Another challenge is keeping staff.

“Because it’s an entry-level retail, a lot of times they are still in college, so they might stay with us for a semester or a year,” Jeni said. “In between those times, it has been challenging to find the right person.”

The Ka‘ohelauli‘is are part of Kapaa Town’s new look, Jeni said.

“In the past, Kapaa has been branded as more of a tourist destination and not necessarily for the locals,” Jeni said. “But we’ve been there for a little over eight years now, and there has been new blood popping up and new shops.”

John said working with his family is unique, and he’s glad to be part of the town’s history.

“ You go through Kapaa Town and you’re basically walking through generations of mom and pop stores that were still here,” he said. “These big shopping centers change the cultural life, but it’s those mom and pops that make Kauai Kauai.”

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