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Community to honor the Nagasako family for many decades of oustanding service

By Staff | May 7, 2015

Mitsuzo Nagasako and his family pause for a picture in their candy store on Lahainaluna Road around 1921.

LAHAINA – Mitsuzo and Ayako Nagasako opened their first retail establishment on Lahainaluna Road in the early 1900s. It was in the heyday of the mom and pop store, plantation town era that is all but vanished today.

Mitsuzo was an apprentice candy and cracker maker from Japan, and the couple came to the islands to work in the sugar cane fields.

It was a sweet day for Lahaina when they opened their candy shop to earn extra dollars.

That was 115 years ago.

Since then, with an innate sense of the pulse of the West Side community, the Nagasako business ‘ohana remains vital today.

Its evolution from a candy store has been upbeat – first to a general store in 1952, then relocating to Lahaina Shopping Center in 1965, where sons Masao and Takehiko opened the Nagasako Supermarket, closing over 30 years later.

Today, the family firm continues with its success, operating as the Nagasako Okazu-Ya Deli and Nagasako General Store in the now Old Lahaina Center.

On Saturday (May 9), the County of Maui is honoring the family under the Banyan Tree in a ceremony hosted by Na Kupuna O Maui and emceed by Wilmont Kahaialii.

The Certificate of Recognition signed by Mayor Alan Arakawa reads, “In recognition for your many years of outstanding service and commitment to excellence. For more than a century, the Nagasako Family has been a dedicated and generous member of our community whose efforts to ‘give back’ are deeply appreciated.”

The family is no stranger to community acknowledgement.

On the passing of Melvin Masao Nagasako in 1980, the County Council issued a Resolution (80-163), honoring his memory: “we are seldom blessed with the presence of a man whose contribution to his family, profession and community are equally remarkable in all respects.”

In 1997, the County Council in a Resolution recognized the family for “Eighty-Seven Years of Business on Maui,” on the closing of the Nagasako Supermarket.

The decree recognized the third generation of Nagasakos – Richard, Annie, Donna, Wally, Miles and Jean – for their community-oriented approach: “The Nagasakos have donated many prizes and sponsored many organizations in the Lahaina community.”

That might be an understatement, with its history closely interwoven with the heartbeat of the Lahaina community.

Aunty Patty Nishiyama, Na Kupuna O Maui spokesperson, organized the celebration this weekend.

She recalled, “This family went around camps and collected orders and filled them and brought it back. They fed our community in the day when people couldn’t afford to buy food to put on the table between paychecks, so the Nagasako family opened up charge accounts.”

Carolyn Kam (Hop Wo Store) remembered Christmas in Lahaina: “Clarence Agena would dress up as Santa and pass out candy and fruit donated by Nagasako at the annual Christmas Parade.”

Community leader Bob Kawaguchi described the family’s grassroots philanthropic passion.

“The Nagasako family was generous in their community support, especially sports. It was more Masao Nagasako; he was with the Lahaina Hongwanji Mission. He always went out of his way to help anybody and everybody,” he said.

“When I was the athletic director at Lahainluna High School,” Kawaguchi continued, “with our fundraisers, he would donate prizes. I used to go down there. You know what he used to do? He would give me one big cart. He just told me, ‘You just go around and pick whatever you need.’ That was the kind of person he was.

“He was one of the biggest benefactors of the West Maui community; he took care of everybody.”

Jean Miyahira (Seaside Bar) remembers, “Those days were really good. It was a close-knit community, and I think it still is; however, times have changed.”

“The Nagasako ‘ohana were always very generous and supportive of many community activities.

“They contributed so much to the Lahaina community. We are very fortunate to still have them in Lahaina to be able to celebrate them,” Miyahira added.

Nagasako Supermarket was more than a grocery store; it was a cultural phenomena.

On the Facebook pubic page “You Know You’re From Lahaina If,” their legacy was commemorated with over 100 likes and posts of Nagasako Nostalgia, with comments from all over the world.

“I don’t know what charities they contributed to,” Joan Dapitan wrote, “but when I got married, my father sent me a check, and the bank wanted a 30-day hold. Mr. Nagasako took the check and gave me the cash. Saved the day!”

“Plus had the talk story tree outside by MDG-supply-store,” Earl Vierra added, “women shopped and the hubbys would go talk story.”

Gloria Perreira was more wordy in her praise of the local grocery store: “My Mom would make the tastiest beef soup with vegetables from our garden with their soup bones! The beef was from our local ranchers! Jane Nagasako was just a joy to talk to! Their bentos was so ono and reasonable, plus their Japanese-style mac/potato salad and namasu as a side dish! So miss Nagasako Supermarket.”

“Everybody loved Jane (Nagasako),” one post exclaimed, and, it appeared to be true with many posts echoing that sentiment.

Mark Diederich had a special recollection not unlike others voiced: “I took my dad there and told him to watch Jane when she checked out this little old Filipino man. She rang up every third item and just smiled.”

Margaret was remembered fondly as well. Turning 90 in October, she still works behind the counter at the Nagasako General Store and doesn’t plan to retire soon.

Their offerings were well-received by Facebook fans as well- including the red hot dogs, early morning block ice, Gold Bond stamps, cone sushi, bento, live lobster, brisket stew meat, fresh fish, soup bones, boiled peanuts, fresh poke, kabob cut beef, charge accounts and the “on-the-go grinds.”

Others remembered the distinctive aroma at the store, while Robert Thomas could recollect at the Lahainaluna establishment, “the delicate sound the wooden floors made when you walked on them, and the down-home smell from the fish/butcher department.”

Their longevity is to be lauded.

Wally Nagasako (Takehiko’s son) attributes their success to hard work, perseverance and their can-do, will-give attitude.

“We have been here so long; the community gave us a lot. They made us a success, so we give back whenever we can,” he said.

The list of people attending the gathering this weekend under the tree reads like a “Who’s Who of Mom and Pop Stores in Lahaina.” Ceremonies commence at 10 a.m.

As one Facebooker exclaimed, “A must-attend event Maui peeps!”