What People Want
Steven Parker stocks Kailua General Store’s shelves with novelties and necessities.
“A general store reflects a lot about a town,” says Steven Parker, Kailua General Store owner, opening a Moleskine notebook stamped with the store’s logo. “I like that you can go to the store and really experience the town you’re in.”
From quirky finds—used golf balls, bamboo walking sticks and more—to locally sourced food and beauty items, Parker channels marketing insight into intuitive anthropology to select rare items for both resident and migrant.
“Well, I guess I just know how people work,” Parker explains, referencing his anthropology degree. “It’s about being aware of the culture around you, touching on things people identify with. If I see something, and I like it, I’ll buy it. And it’s been working so far.”
“The whole idea of this store is stuff you need, and stuff you don’t, and stuff you didn’t know you needed … And I have shave ice; it’s a treat,” Parker exclaims, noting the rainbow dessert alludes to “Sundays at the general store” during Hawai‘i’s plantation days.
Born and raised in Kailua, Parker’s locavorism and individuality are evidenced through a guided walking tour of the store’s holdings. All soaps, lotions and food items are produced in Hawai‘i. From one-of-a-kind dishtowels, cutting boards, artwork and underwater photography to blown glass and greeting cards, he says: “You gotta do something that separates you from the pack.”
Parker motions toward a wooden table covered with vintage texts. “This is the best book ever made,” he states, smiling, as he picks up a copy of Fishing Hawaii Style. “They reprinted it after being discontinued.”
A craftsman himself, Parker hand prints T-shirts and bags. He also has a knack for transforming trash to treasure. He constructed the store from recycled materials and scraps deemed unsuitable for use, including koa wood, apple crates, specimen drawers that belonged to an entomologist and other knickknacks. “It’s fun when you need something, and then the mission is, how do I make that with my hands?”
To the left is an armoire packed with honey (notably, Christmas Berry, a weed-like flower), “dad-approved” hot sauce and other edibles beckoning an in-store taste. “We sell tons of these,” states Parker, lifting an open jar of North Shore Goodies’ Coconut Peanut Butter. “People drive from all over to get them.”
From cupboard to bathroom, you’re guaranteed to find something special here, likely made by one of Parker’s friends or family members.
“Something that I’m really proud of is my shaving stuff.” He points to shelves topped with old-timey brushes, aftershave balms, soaps, and naturally, razors. “Vintage, single blade razors are extremely hard to find.”
Other grooming tools Kailua General Store sells are bath salts formulated with essential oils and Indigenous Soaps, hand-made by one of Parker’s Punahou classmates.
“General stores are really synonymous with soaps, so I had to have a good selection,” Parker states. “Kailua General Store brand soaps are exclusive to the store, made in Hawai‘i by a friend of mine.”
He continues the tour, walking to the colorful front table. “I’ve got penny candy, toys, dartboards … when kids come in, I ask what the cool kids have, and they’re honest.” Parker pauses, nodding to an impressive array of Rainbow Loom, 2014’s Toy of the Year. “We carry every color that Rainbow Loom makes. It’s like a 10-year-old’s dream.”
A master of perusing trade publications, the web and his Hawai‘i network to supply “weird stuff and great gift items,” quality exceeds quantity at Kailua General Store. Parker claims, “I like to have nice things and things that last.”
“It’s the first job I’ve enjoyed coming to,” Parker beams. “It’s a little challenge to see what people want.”
A surprising recent phenomenon is hometown pride. “Our most popular items are the Hydro Flasks and 967tree4 clothing. It’s Kailua’s zip code.” Zip codes are continuing to appear in mass streams on bumper stickers, hats, bags and tees. When asked to explain five-digit pride, Parker laughs, “I like to tell people I started it [the zip code trend].”
I cannot exit without mentioning my java fixation. “We have coffee that’s exclusively roasted for us on the Big Island by a friend.” Parker picks up a shiny emerald sack of Hawaii Volcano Coffee. “I have a lot of friends,” he laughs.
And with the opening of his charming general store and amiable warmth, he’s destined to make a few more.
Photos: Courtesy Brook Gramann
KAILUA GENERAL STORE
171 D HAMAKUA DR.
HOURS: MONDAY-SATURDAY 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
CLOSED SUNDAY AND MAJOR HOLIDAYS