From grass skirts and red dirt shirts to fine jewelry, Emperor’s Emporium offers a variety of quintessential Hawaiian gifts.
“We’re a community, and we sell community stuff. So if a little girl comes in wanting a grass skirt, by God, we’ll have it,” said owner Jerry Vigil. “Our clientele is mostly tourists. Locals come here when they want gifts for their relatives who are coming from other places.”
For Vigil, what started as a small store in Kekaha selling Robert J. Clancey aloha shirts soon evolved into a one-stop shop in the heart of Koloa.
“When I bought the store, another vendor selling RJC shirts gave me some for free to get the store up and running. I’ve never forgotten their kindness,” Vigil said.
Emperor’s Emporium will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year. The shop on Koloa Road is run by Vigil and his grandson, Scott Vigil.
“I also opened a shop in Kapaa and had a booth at Spouting Horn,” Jerry Vigil said. “The years went by so fast.”
Those locations have since closed, leaving the one in Koloa the last one standing.
“I stayed at this one because I liked it the most. I can sit outside or walk to the park. And during the Koloa Plantation Days, I can watch the parade from my store. It’s just so pleasant.”
While he could retire, the 75-year-old says he has no plans to slow down.
“Every day, I enjoy coming to work,” he said.
Emperor’s Emporium, which hires two merchandisers and two sales ladies, sells goods from over 50 vendors. Its merchandise is separated into six major groups — women’s clothes, men’s clothes, children’s clothes, jewelry, red dirt shirts and gifts.
“It takes a certain amount of art to fill a store. If we’re going to order something, we better be sure we’re going to sell it. It’s a very interesting business,” Vigil said.
The retired engineer started traveling to Oahu for work over 40 years ago. While there, he started studying diamonds and took a goldsmith class.
“I’ve always wanted to own my own jewelry store,” he said.
Vigil, who has traveled to over 40 countries, has always had a penchant for diamonds and other precious stones. During his visits to Saudi Arabia, India and Sri Lanka, he would collect stones, have them set and sell them.
He still has some of those stones, which are for sale at Emperor’s Emporium.
For Vigil, the secret to being open for 25 years is simple.
“You have to be willing to learn. It’s not about what I like, it’s about what the customers like,” he said. “I’ve learned that from the sales reps more than anyone.”