Kojima Store lost roof but not its community connection

When Hurricane Iniki made landfall on Kauai in 1992, Glen Kojima was co-owner of an independent grocery store on Kuhio Highway in Kapaa. The five-generation family business, known as Kojima Store, was open from 1946 until 2014.

Kojima Store was an iconic landmark that was damaged by the hurricane. Although the building lost its roof and rafters, the store was able to lend a helping hand to the community before reopening its doors. The Garden Island asked Kojima to relate his experience during the disaster.

Q. What did you do to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Iniki?

A. We put some ti leafs on the door, said a prayer and went home. Basically we locked everything up and didn’t know what to expect.

This was my first experience of a hurricane, and it was a big one.

Q. How was your grocery store affected by Hurricane Iniki?

A. The structure behind our building used to be Aloha Lumber, a three-story lumber yard. Toward the end of the hurricane when the winds shifted, their whole roof flipped over and ended up smack dab in the middle of our store. It just opened up our roof and everything blew off. What’s amazing is we couldn’t find any of the rafters. Near the property, around the property, we couldn’t find those rafters. We were surprised that the rafters were not attached to the building and were nowhere to be found.

All the telephone poles and electrical lines fronting the store were laying down in front of our entry. The structure to the right, my grandparent’s house, had rafters but all the roofing material was gone. My grandfather, as stubborn as he was, stayed in his house the whole time and went to bed. The next morning he looked up and could see the sunrise. The roof was gone, and the ceiling was gone.

Q. When the storm was passing over, what did you do?

A. Well I had heard that you want to keep the house well ventilated. So you want to pop a few windows open on the opposite side of the house where the wind is coming from. You want to have all your inside doors open but blocked with a pillow or something, so your house can breathe. If you allow a door to slam, the pressure goes upward, and that’s when you roof goes.

We were in a walk-in closet and felt very safe, because my house was well built and it wasn’t creaking and falling apart. So we weren’t afraid at all; it was more in awe of what was going on outside.

A. How did people around you react to the natural disaster?

Q. At the time, access to food, water, gas and everything was limited. All day there would be traffic on Kuhio Highway fronting the store. People were trying to find food, water, supplies, materials. So we just brought all our perishables roadside and passed it out to passerbys that were stuck in traffic. We tried to preserve our frozen and chilled items with a big generator for a week, but that didn’t make any sense. So we ended up giving all the chilled and frozen stuff to the shelter up at Kapaa High School to feed the people there. The salvageable groceries and stuff, we gave to our employees and the people that were helping us clean up.

Q. Was your home impacted by the storm?

A. My house was only minorly damaged, so I was lucky. I was fortunate that when I built my house in ‘87 my contractor was a very reputable contractor on island. He built my house with the memory of the previous hurricane in mind. So my house was very well-built, and we just sustained minimal damage. I was fortunate I didn’t have to focus on my house and could focus on getting the store repaired.

Q. Were you able to reopen your store after repairing the damages?

A. We suffered one of the major damages here on island, but we were one of the first to reopen. We were fortunate our rancher that supplied us with our fresh beef was also a contractor who anticipated heavy damages. He had secured lines of credit as soon as it hit. He was able to secure supplies quickly, so he could continue to sell his beef. The cows didn’t stop growing when the store closed. So it was in his best interest to get us going up and running. We were down about four to six months maybe. We reopened early the next year, until we recently closed in July of 2014.

Q. What became of the building that housed the Kojima Store?

A. We’ve recently sold the property, at the end of last year, in 2016, for different reasons of the owners. Some of them were in different stages of our lives with kids going to college. Some of my relatives didn’t have children, so they wanted to take life a little easier in semi-retirement since we put so much time into the business. We sold the property and purchased two other commercial properties.

Q. What lessons have you learned in the years since Iniki?

A. You know, it’s really odd because for me, we owned a store. So we had all what we needed. If you needed food, if you needed toiletries, if you needed water, maybe a shot of whiskey, we had it. But now we don’t own a store anymore, and I guess my lessons would be I would have to be more prepared as far as those items.

Q. What advice would you give to business owners confronted with a similar catastrophe?

A. My advice to other business owners would be to make sure their current hurricane policy is up to date and be prepared. Now that we do not own a grocery store, I have to do my own preparations.

Since the hurricane, probably 90 percent of the structures have been brought up to code. So with the new updated codes, I’m sure houses and residents are a lot safer then they were when Iniki hit. If you’re near the ocean with the tides and the wind and the water, you may want to vacate the area. If you’re structure’s fairly new, I feel it would be fairly safe to stay at home. Don’t go near windows, of course.

Q. How did the community come together after the disaster?

A. When things were somewhat settled and the roadways were somewhat clear, I would load up groceries and drive out to my friend’s houses to make sure they had stuff. I would bring food and canned goods, toiletries and water. I also had to tend to my mom’s house. So there was a lot going on.

Some of our customers, after things settled down, brought us plants to replace hedges on the side that were all blown out. A lot of people helped the elderly put tarps on their roofs. Maybe it’s more from us giving than receiving, because we had stuff to give. We had merchandise some people really needed that we passed out roadside. We couldn’t do anything with the real perishable stuff. We couldn’t wait for the insurance people to salvage it so we just gave it out to the people along the Kuhio Highway in front of the store.

Access to food and necessities was very limited. Grocery stores had no power. They were letting, for security reasons, a few people in at a time to shop, and there were long lines. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Q. What was the most positive outcome from the storm?

A. I was just so happy to hear how it brought the island together. It was pretty amazing how people really got together and helped each other out. They showed true aloha spirit. Here everybody was seeing what they could do for others. If they could lend a hand, they did. So that’s what Hawaii’s about, and it shows when things like this happen.

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