Just about anywhere you go in Hawai‘i, there’s an ABC Store — on busy street corners, near beaches, in shopping centers and hotel lobbies. The near-ubiquitous convenience stores are a local staple, as familiar as shakas and shave ice, and it’s hard to imagine that at one point there was just one single store.
Sidney and Minnie Kosasa opened the first ABC Store in Waikīkī 57 years ago. For Sidney, it was one of many milestones he was arguably destined to achieve. His Japanese immigrant parents, Morita and Mitsue, opened M. Kosasa Grocery and Butcher on O‘ahu in 1917. Two years later, Sidney was born in the apartment directly above that very store.
Growing up, Sidney worked at the store and learned the ins and outs of the retail business. In 1942, he earned his pharmacy degree from the University of California, Berkeley — the same year Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order that authorized the forced removal and incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Sidney was sent to an internment camp in Northern California. There, he reunited with Minnie, whom he had met in college, and later they married.
A year later, the Kosasas were released and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where Sidney worked in a hospital pharmacy. The following year, the Kosasas returned home to Hawai‘i and Sidney became a pharmacist and a manager at a drug store in Honolulu. In 1949 the couple opened their own pharmacy, and by 1959, they owned a chain of drug stores on O‘ahu.
During a trip to Miami Beach, Sidney noticed that tourists were buying their essentials at local convenience stores, not at hotel gift shops. This sparked an idea, and in 1964, Sidney opened a similar convenience store with fairly priced merchandise on Waikīkī’s main thoroughfare, Kalākaua Avenue. The Kosasas chose a name that anyone from anyplace could remember — and one that would always be at the beginning of the phone book: ABC. (Contrary to what some may think, it’s not an acronym.) It wasn’t long before one store became two, then 27, then 60. Today, there are 77 (and counting) ABC Stores with locations in Hawai‘i, Saipan, Guam and Las Vegas.
The modern-day ABC store is not your run-of-the-mill corner shop. In addition to everyday items like groceries, liquor, toiletries, cosmetics and over-the-counter drugs, the stores carry all manner of beach gear, Hawaiian shirts and other clothing, flip-flops and souvenirs, just about anything a visitor — or a local! — could possibly need. The family-run company also has grown to include Island Gourmet Markets, Island Country Markets, Sueoka Market, Honolua General Store in Kapalua, and two restaurants: Basalt in Waikīkī and Lineage in Wailea.
“My parents had incredible insight and vision for this company,” says son Paul Kosasa, current president and CEO of ABC Stores. “They instilled old-school values in their employees: work hard, be on time, be responsible and, most of all, take care of your customers. Providing excellent customer service along with a wide variety of merchandise is the key to our success.”
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