This is a story about hard work, commitment, and a family owned business marking its 100th anniversary this year. It is a Hawai`i story and an American story. It’s a story worth telling.
Koichi Taniguchi left Japan in 1907. He was seventeen years old when he arrived in Honolulu. The young man worked at Heeia Sugar Plantation for six years before his bride Taniyo arrived. The couple moved to Waiakea Town, a district in Hilo. They bought a two-story building on Lihiwai Street, and opened K. Taniguchi Shoten in 1916.
The enterprise was a 500 square foot grocery and dry goods store serving Waiakea Town and the plantations along the Hamakua Coast. Taniyo operated the store while minding her son Yukiwo. Koichi took orders from around Hilo and from plantation workers, and then delivered the items by bicycle. Both the business and the family grew.
Koichi Taniguchi’s business philosophy still infuses KTA Superstores. Mr. Taniguchi supported the community because the community supported the store. Plantation workers were paid once a month. When they were on strike, the workers weren’t paid at all. Mr. Taniguchi extended them credit. The policy continued in World War II when the store extended credit during times of rationing. The debts were paid.
By 1939 the Taniguchis had saved enough money to open a second store, this time in downtown Hilo at the corner of Keawe and Mamo Streets.
In 1946 a devastating tsunami struck Hilo without warning. Waiakea Town was destroyed completely. Much of downtown was also damaged. Hiloans, including the Taniguchis, rebuilt. The Taniguchis expressed confidence in the future by opening a store in Kailua-Kona.
In 1960 another tsunami struck Hilo. When the wave appeared Yukiwo Taniguchi was parked in front of the downtown store. He was loading his car with merchandise to take across the island. Fortunately Yukiwo had time to rush to the second story of the store. He survived. The wave moved his car twenty-five yards.
Today KTA Superstores remain a family owned enterprise with six stores on the Island of Hawai`i. Barry Taniguchi, grandson of Koichi and Taniyo, is Chairman and CEO. Their great-grandson Toby Taniguchi serves as president and chief operating officer. KTA’s business model continues to be service to the community.
One hundred years is a long time for a family owned business to flourish. For generations Big Island residents have shopped at KTA. It looks like future generations will have the same privilege.
Featured Image: KTA Super Store downtown location. Photo by Author.
Hilo Beach in 1892. U.S. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
Hilo Suburbs in 1907. U.S. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
1946 Hilo Tsunami. U.S. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
Downtown KTA Super Store. Photo by Author.
Wanda Adams. “Family Owned KTA Superstores Committed to Hawaii Products. Honolulu Advertiser.com Dec. 3, 2008.
John Burnett. “Happy Birthday, KTA.” Hawai’i Tribune Herald. Jan. 17, 2016. Pp. 1, 8.
Jason Y. Kimura. “Family Calling for Hall-of-Famer.” Hawaii Retail Grocer. 2015.
Rod Thompson. “Support of Local Products Propels KTA.” Star-Bulletin.com. Sept. 29, 2002.
Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth is available as an audiobook.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.