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Old-time Maui store is thriving, 60 years on

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PUKALANI, Maui >> Around five years ago Pukalani Superette owners and brothers Aric and Myles Nakashima saw a trend with people wanting to buy healthier groceries.

So they dedicated sales space for healthful food products and visited health food shows in Oregon and California, just to see what was selling, and made an investment in educating themselves about the products.

Coming from a store that sells rice, potato macaroni salad and laulau, health food was not their forte.

But they learned. Now they have an aisle with shelves on both sides dedicated to healthful, natural and organic food “from grains to chips,” they said.

“Organic produce sells well,” said younger brother Myles Nakashima. “It has really taken off for us.”

Organic food sales haven’t come near to taking over their core business, however. Pukalani Superette still sells hot dogs, kim chee and Spam, and it has a variety of hot prepared food such as chili chicken and roast pork.

Yet, the health food experience and gaining insight into a new consumer trend came with “thinking ahead,” a trait by the Nakashimas that has contributed to the longevity of the locally owned business, the brothers said.

The store marks its 60th anniversary this year. Anniversary specials and discounts run through Oct. 31.

The current store was built in 1955, and this year’s anniversary celebrates that milestone. But the family business goes back decades before that when the Nakashima brothers’ maternal grandfather and grandmother, Takeo and Kome Tanizaki, opened Tanizaki Store in Wailuku. The Tanizakis emigrated from Japan to work on plantations in Hawaii.

Over time many family-run, mom-and-pop businesses have succumbed to competition of big-box stores and national retailers. Still, Pukalani Superette thrives.

“It (business) is always changing,” said 62-year-old Aric Nakashima. “You always got to be on top of it. You always going to be thinking ahead. Like any business, you got to think ahead.”

The elder brother added that one must think of a business’s customer base and how that changes and whether “you can handle it.” And they have.

A challenge for local family-owned businesses is “to offer good-quality products while staying price-competitive with the big guys,” said Arnold Hiura, a Big Island author who has visited many mom-and-pop businesses in Hawaii for his book about local food. “Also, they must try to stay ahead of consumer trends such as farm-to-table, buying local, eating healthy, organic when feasible, etc.”

The Nakashima brothers also attribute their longevity to all the good employees, customer loyalty, convenience and location of the store, giving back to the community, as well as “luck.”

They said the longtime workers become family and also see the business as their own. Barbara Silva has been at the store for 50 years, and there are others who have been there for 40 years, the family said.

The brothers said the store is also a convenient stop because it is “in the community” at the corner of Makawao Avenue and Old Haleakala Highway.

As their longtime radio jingle says, “Selection, convenience and so much more … Pukalani Superette, your easy-does-it store.”

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