4 Entrepreneurs Keeping it Local on O‘ahu’s North Shore
Modern mom & pop businesses work to keep the country country.
Illustration: Louis Scheer
“The North Shore has one of the best brands on the island,” says Ed Korybski, the executive director of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce. “It’s surfing. It’s outdoors.” As more visitors—2.5 million a year and growing, according to the North Shore Chamber—are drawn to the area, the retail scene has shifted. More and more businesses are vying primarily for visitor dollars, Korybski notes. And while the storefronts in Hale‘iwa maintain a laidback, plantation-town charm, the shops are a little shinier, the products are a lot pricier and commercial rents continue to rise.
Fortunately for North Shore residents, there’s also a new wave of local entrepreneurship. Among the shops peddling shell-adorned home décor and kitschy souvenirs, a handful of strong-willed kama‘āina women and families have opened up businesses that provide goods and services expressly for the people who live there. Let’s hear it for these modern-day mom-and-pop shops that are truly keeping the country country.
Why Knott Florist
From left Owner Bobby Knott with Wendy Kaululaau-Albeso
Photos: Aaron K. Yoshino
OWNER: Bobby Knott
BUSINESS: Lei, floral arrangements, plant arrangements, orchids, bouquets, wristlets, vases, cards and more. Haku lei and floral arrangement classes.
MISSION: “I want to have a shop where people can come in, be on a first-name basis and get a quality product. I’m jazzed that we can do trades with others in the community, so that we are buying local and selling local.”
ADVICE TO NEW ENTREPRENEURS: “Totally go for it. In my businesses, I try to never say no. If the client asks for something, I try to get it done right away. Also, keeping some consistent income when you’re starting your business can help you to not freak out so much if you have a huge loan to pay off.”
Shortly after Why Knott Florist opened in the Waialua Shopping Center, proprietor Bobby Knott got her first big test: It was Mother’s Day, followed immediately by graduations galore. People were calling in orders for bouquets and lei as fast as she could keep up with them. “We pulled it off,” Knott says, both ecstatic and relieved. Her husband, Mike, her 19-year-old twin daughters, her floral designer Wendy Kaululaau-Albeso and Kaululaau-Albeso’s daughter all pitched in, and they emerged from the other side of May with tons of satisfied customers who promised to be back again.
For the past 27 years, Knott has taken on multiple identities on the North Shore: the indefatigable aerobics instructor, the zealous soccer mom and coach, and, for 21 years, the owner of Why Knott Nursery. The flower shop, she says, has made her feel more like a part of the community than anything else.
“Everybody comes in. Grandmas, moms, kids buying flowers for their moms. We’re like borderline bartender-hairdressers,” Knott jokes, saying that she wants all her customers to leave feeling like they’ve created a lasting relationship. “There’s one woman—we call her Auntie—who comes in every other week to buy a haku lei because she dances in Waikīkī, and now she brings us lunch, she brings us cookies.” Knott credits the customers’ loyalty to her partner, Kaululaau-Albeso, who was born and raised in Waialua, and Kaululaau-Albeso’s attentive, personalized style of service.
Opening a flower shop was actually much harder than she thought it would be, Knott admits, with little challenges like tying bows and big challenges like managing inventory. “Every flower in the world blooms and dies, and that’s really hard for me. I have a hard time wasting anything, especially if it’s from the ‘āina,” she says. “So I try not to order too much or too little. Sometimes I end up going out in the parking lot and giving my flowers away.”
67-292 Goodale Ave., #103, Waialua, (808) 637-9380, whyknottflorist.org
Owner Vera Close
OWNER: Vera Close
BUSINESS: Haircuts, color, corrective color, styling, braiding and updos. Makeup, waxing and mobile hair-care services also available.
MISSION: “I want customers to leave feeling great about themselves and looking great, and I care that, when they go home, they can achieve the same look as in the salon.”
ADVICE TO NEW ENTREPRENEURS: “Don’t give up. If there’s a hurdle, climb it. If there’s a wall, climb it.”
Salon maven Vera Close has lived on the North Shore for 28 years. One of the community’s most sought-after hair stylists, Close’s regular clients were thrilled when she opened the doors of her own Adonai Salon in the corner of the Xcel Building in Hale‘iwa last July, after years of working for other salons in the area.
Initially, she started with two styling chairs. With 36 years of hair-cutting experience and support from friends and family—her landlord helped with financing, her roommate designed the ocean-themed décor and her kids painted the walls—Close embraced the role of entrepreneur.
“These days you can’t just expect to open the door and business will come. You have to pass out fliers and business cards. You have to go to certain events. You have to have your appointment calendar with you all the time,” she says, describing the need to be proactive in promoting your own business. “Having the self-confidence is half the battle. I used to have a problem marketing myself. Now I just figure all people can do is say no.”
Besides the administrative and operational tasks, it’s also essential, Close says, to keep up with industry trends. In the hair business, it’s coloring techniques like balayage and ombré. “People don’t want the old highlighting,” she explains. “If you don’t stay current, you can’t do your job well.”
Close’s focus and determination have paid off. Today her biggest challenge is hiring enough reliable stylists to keep up with the demand. “I’ve learned that consistency is everything. If you show up, other people will show up,” she says, grateful that her doors are still open and customers keep coming. “I call the business my baby. My baby’s crawling, but she’s starting to stand and walk on her own two feet.”
66-590 Kamehameha Highway, Unit 1C1, Hale‘iwa, (808) 637-7773, facebook.com/adonaisalon
Eyeland Style Optical
From left Dr. Janine Sherry, Kat Montero and Kalea Quitevis
OWNER: Janine Sherry, O.D.
BUSINESS: Eye exams, contact lens exams, eyeglasses, contact lenses, ocular health checks. They also check for diabetes, high blood pressure, glaucoma, retinal problems and other eye diseases.
MISSION: “My goal is to provide quality eye care and offer quality eyewear. I want to make sure everyone gets the quality of care they deserve.”
ADVICE TO NEW ENTREPRENEURS: “Don’t take no for an answer. There’s a yes around the corner. And don’t be afraid to try!”
Ever since she graduated from optometry school, Dr. Janine Sherry dreamed of having her own practice. When she moved to the North Shore 16 years ago, she picked up part-time optometry work and served as one of the primary eye doctors at the Mililani Walmart’s optical department for 13 years while she raised her two kids. After two years of searching for a suitable location in Hale‘iwa, a space became available, and Sherry knew the timing was right to open Eyeland Style Optical.
Kat Montero and Kalea Quitevis, two of Sherry’s longtime co-workers, became her right-hand women in the endeavor, and her husband, Tim, helped navigate the twists and turns of launching a small business. “Figuring out the bank loan, deciding the business structure, negotiating the lease—these were hard for me because I don’t have a business background,” Sherry recalls. “And some of it was just being nervous that it was really going to happen. Once you make that decision, you’re on.”
In the process, Sherry learned to be assertive and persistent. “You realize that’s how to get things done,” she says, encouraging new entrepreneurs to not give up. “There’s this song that Jack Johnson sings—‘Don’t let your dreams be dreams.’ That always stuck in my mind, so I wanted to see it through.”
Eyeland Style Optical opened in April 2017, and Sherry is proud that she’s able to provide quality eye care and eyewear to her community. She’s also having fun at the same time. “I’ve got the science side—the doctor side—and the business side, and running the optical shop is like the artistic side. It’s a fashion thing. You get to help pick out glasses and make people look good,” the amiable optometrist says. “The best is when people come in and say, ‘Wow, I can see so much better.’ That’s such a great feeling, knowing I had something to do with that.”
66-165 Kamehameha Highway, Unit 4-2, Hale‘iwa, (808) 892-1428, eyelandstyleoptical.com
Left to right front row: Henry Kaikea Woolley, Holden Lanui Woolley; middle row: Sierra Shore, Catherine Woolley, Martin (their friend), April Woolley, Greyson Kulia Woolley; back row: Shaun Woolley, Nat Woolley, Ehukai Woolley
OWNERS: The Woolley Family
BUSINESS: Children’s boutique that sells clothing and accessories, books, and educational and eco-friendly toys.
MISSION: “To provide our customers with unique, handmade, quality products with outstanding customer service that will bring them back again. Create a win-win-win business for our customers, our artisans and us.”
ADVICE TO NEW ENTREPRENEURS: “Keep your niche and focus there. Catch only the fish that fit in your net—don’t worry about what everyone else is getting. Also, follow your heart. Anything is possible. That’s the pioneer spirit.”
What happens when you pool the individual talents of six willful Woolleys? In this case, it manifests itself as Tini Manini, a homegrown children’s boutique that reflects the whimsical range of the born-and-raised Waialua family’s passions and values. Here you’ll find Hale‘iwa-branded and North Shore-themed onesies and kids’ tees, designed and screen-printed by well-known Woolley brothers, Nat and Shaun, respectively; hats and stickers produced by younger brother Ehukai; and big sister Sierra’s personally embroidered Small Intentions clothing line.
Behind the scenes, Shaun’s wife, April, helps manage merchandise—“things we love made with love by people we love”—from more than 60 local artisans, and she’s often the one delivering warm smiles from behind the counter, too. And mom, Nancy, former co-owner of The Growing Keiki children’s store down the street, handles the bookwork and, naturally, the mentoring.
While they were considering the venture, Nancy Woolley told her kids that being a business owner in a small community comes with a hefty weight. “I told them, ‘When you open your doors to the public, you’re going to give them a piece of you. You’re going to show them what you value. You’re going to share what’s in your heart. And that’s represented not just by the items you carry, but also by the look of the store, the cleanliness, the customer service,’” she shares. “‘When you and your wife stand in line at the grocery store, you cannot argue. You represent Tini Manini, and you represent our family in this community. Are you ready for that?’”
They insisted they were, and, since that commitment, Tini Manini has taken off, satisfying the steady stream of shoppers looking for a one-of-a-kind baby shower or baby lū‘au gift. Nancy Woolley is proud of what they’ve accomplished. “It’s not just work. It’s a creative outlet that they can put their love into,” she says. “From a mother’s point of view, to see my children give the best that they can give, 100 percent, and watch it be successful has been an absolute joy for me.”
66-250 Kamehameha Highway, C102, Hale‘iwa, (808) 637-8464, tinimanini.com