A Tribute to The Convenience Store Pioneers of Ewa Beach
Commitment To Community
Camille Wong | Apr 11, 2018
As we open the doors to our newly renovated Ewa Beach store this week, we would like to recognize a family that has been involved in far more than assisting us with the establishment of our current location in this neighborhood. Just ask anyone who grew up in the area about the Tanaka family store. You will most likely hear a fond memory of simpler times- long before Capri Sun and Ring Pops, when Icees and Chick-o-Sticks were hot commodities for the after school crowd, catching Pokémon was unheard of, and climbing trees was the best way to spend an afternoon not doing homework.
Let’s go back to the summer of 1946. Phyllis and her husband Teruo Nosaka, also known as Ted, a steelman at Tripler Hospital, purchased the piece of land alongside Fort Weaver Road, known as the Makule Road Property. In 1947, with the help of her brother Donald Tanaka, they start to build their house. Since materials were hard to come by, they use lumber from an old Army theater, and spend each paycheck they earn to purchase more building materials.
A little over a year later, the house is complete. In October 1948, Donald and Phyllis’s brother, Charles Tanaka, moves his general store from Honouliuli to the Makule Road Property. Thus begins the era of the Tanaka Store. Next to the store, Charles and his family also live in a quonset hut, tending to their greenhouse of anthuriums and orchids, their vegetable garden, and numerous chickens and turkeys. Together, Charles and wife, Ted and Phyllis, as well as all their children, help run the store and farm the land.
For the next fourteen years, the Tanaka Store provides groceries and goods to the community. And while the families in the neighborhood grow, so do their needs for certain services. At this time, there aren’t many other businesses in the area. There is Beach Corner, the Silva Store, and Wong’s Chevron Gas Station. Hau Bush is run by the Ewa Sugar Corporation and CPC beach is run by Del Monte Corporation. There is a bus running, but no schools are in the area yet.
Next to the store, Charles and his family also live in a quonset hut, tending to their greenhouse of anthuriums and orchids, their vegetable garden, and numerous chickens and turkeys.
It is 1962 when the Nosakas build the first professional building on the property. This provides an office for Dr. Wesley Hayashi, a dentist, as well as spaces for B’s Barber Shop, Alice’s Beauty Shop, Ewa Beach Appliances and Kut Rite Cleaners. All the tenants are selected based on what the community needs, transforming the property to a place of gathering for the neighborhood. To the Nosakas, their tenants are like family. They do whatever they can to help them prosper.
During the Christmas holidays, the Nosakas even take up the tradition of hosting the neighborhood in their parking lot at the end of the Santa parade. As a thank you to the police officers, volunteers, and the neighborhood Santa, the family provides food for everyone. Smiles and laughter are shared for many holiday seasons.
In 1968, Ted and Phyllis Nosaka purchase the Tanaka Store from Charles, and by 1972, they build a second professional building on their property. This building houses Dr. Ken Nagahiro, an optometrist, and a hardware store called Garden Town. The Nosakas also move into the second floor of the building, so that the area of their old house they built could be turned into a parking lot.
By this time, schools such as Ilima Intermediate and Campbell High School have been built, resulting in throngs of children seeking treats before and after class. Ever attentive to the needs of even the youngest members of the community, Ted and Phyllis invest in a Coke machine for Icees, as well as make ice cakes. They make sure the price of many of their snacks and candies are at a cost that the keiki can afford. Phyllis even creates small paid jobs around the property for the children, such as raking leaves; For high school students who seem to never have class- she enlists as security and provides lunch for them. Better they stay with her and work, than be somewhere else if they are not in class, she reasons.
As the eighties approach, Ted and Phyllis are nearing the age of retirement. Talks begin with the Texas-based Southland Corporation, which will later become 7-Eleven Hawai’i. The State of Hawai’i’s project to realign Fort Weaver Road is also in progress at this time.
Phyllis even creates small paid jobs around the property for the children, such as raking leaves; For high school students who seem to never have class- she enlists as security and provides lunch for them. Better they stay with her and work, than be somewhere else if they are not in class, she reasons.
On October 15th, 1982, the Nosakas make the decision to retire and close the Tanaka Store. They explore the idea of moving into Honolulu to be closer to doctors and “things to do” in town. They also consider leasing their land to another needed business in Ewa Beach.
With the start of the New Year, in January 1983, a contract with Southland Corporation is reached. The Nosakas now have some upfront money to purchase a house in Honolulu, as they desired. Ted and Phyllis also take a trip to Japan, a visit they had not had the opportunity to take while working on the property for so many years. While 7-Eleven Hawai’i has taken over the property, tenants still call Ted and Phyllis from time to time, and the couple listens to and helps with whatever comes up. Even though they live miles away from Ewa Beach, the ties that the Nosaka family formed remain strong.
Today, Ted and Phyllis’s son, Rick, and his wife Barbara, take care of Phyllis. Ted passed away in February of this year, but his memory will always remain. Through the stories¹ of the Tanaka Store customers, as well as through the well-kept photos, videos and hand-written notes by Phyllis, it is apparent that in their years spent living, working and playing in Ewa Beach, the family forged a legacy of generosity and loyalty. While much has changed around the neighborhood, their legacy is what we hope to continue carrying on through our store. Mahalo to the Tanaka and Nosaka family!
¹EWAlution 96706 is a social media project that features people, places and practices that make Ewa and Ewa Beach what it is today. They have helped bring light to the Tanaka Store history and introduced us to Rick and Barbara, who provided the information in this piece. Conceptualized in 2017 with media partner, Upspring Media, EWAlution 96706 is currently collaborating with Ilima Intermediate students and community members to capture more stories that reflect the heart and soul of the community-the relationships, connections and personal experiences of the people that bring Ewa and Ewa Beach to life. Please visit https://www.facebook.com/ewalution96706 to learn more.