Our Town: Kaimuki Typewriter Service

A 20th-century institution is still clacking away on King Street.

In today’s computer-centric world, the sight of Kaimuki Typewriter Service’s sign, across from McCully Zippy’s, provokes a second look. Does anybody really still need their typewriter fixed? Kaimuki Typewriter is indeed open for business, in the back of the Miss Hawai’i Building, and yes, it continues to sell and service what are rapidly becoming nostalgia pieces.

"We’re still kicking," says owner Richard Sugano. "People don’t use typewriters as much these days, but businesses still need them for forms."

Those who do tend to use newer electronic models, and Sugano’s walls are packed with scores of big green mechanical beasts, now obsolete and not likely to be used again. The oldest typewriters remain the most elegant, though; several Underwoods, manufactured in the 1920s, still gleam blackly from the shelves. Sugano says he is occasionally asked to rent one of the Underwoods out as a television or movie prop. "As long as it’s only for a few days, I say, eh, just borrow it, bring it back when you’re done," he shrugs.

Ironically, Kaimuki Typewriter Service never had a storefront in Kaimuki. Founder Donald Sugano (Richard’s father) began repairing typewriters out of his home in 1944 or ’45. He needed a business name for his tax forms, and chose his own neighborhood as a namesake. But when he opened a physical store, it was in Mo’ili’ili. The shop also spent time at the corner of King and Ke’eaumoku, and on Beretania, before moving to its current King Street location.

photos: Michael Keany

As for the Miss Hawai’i Building itself, we wondered what the story was behind that name. The building’s owner, George Jinbo, says that in the early ’50s, his father, Genjira Jinbo, who owned the building at the time, had an interest in a clothing manufacturing company named the Miss Hawai’i Manufacturing Co. Ltd. How the clothing company got that name, George doesn’t know, but it’s interesting that Genjira’s purchase of the building in late 1947 came not long before the first Miss Hawai’i pageant, which debuted in 1948. Coincidence?

If you know the answer, e-mail us at letters_honmag@pacificbasin.net.