With members from the Uyeda family
By Erika Engle
Published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser
Uyeda Shoe Store in Moiliili is a third-generation family business that turns 100 this year and will relocate — but not for a while and not too far away.
Claire Takashima's mother dug up an old picture of Claire's grandfather in the family's first store on Fort Street in Honolulu, which specialized in shoe repair.
"That's an Edison light bulb," as in Thomas Edison, she said, pointing at a bare bulb in the photo. The family business was established in 1915 after Takashima's grandfather Saijiro Uyeda and grandmother Hatsuno immigrated to Hawaii from Japan. The couple's eight children grew up in and around the store.
Because even the best shoes can be repaired only so many times, the decision was made to also sell new shoes. "My grandmother put a little showcase in the store," Takashima said, and over time, sales of new shoes supplanted the repair business.
Fast-forward to today, and it doesn't really matter that Takashima is not very computer-savvy: Many of her customers are, so the small shop has a rating of 41⁄2 of 5 possible stars at online review site Yelp.com, with customers posting raves about the personal service and knowledgeable help received while there. You won't see any stiletto heels or gleaming red soles in Uyeda Shoe Store, the type of shoe Takashima calls "killers."
Recording artist and actress Yvonne Elliman has been a customer for years and said she "could totally wear" one of the blingy, beaded Fit Flop sandals onstage, Takashima chuckled.
The store sells stylish footwear intended to be comfortable and specializes in wide widths for Hawaii feet accustomed to wearing rubber slippers. It also is one of the few Oahu retailers selling Hoka One One athletic shoes.
Additional brands include Teva, Merrell, Mephisto and Naot, to name a few. Other items include specialty socks and products focused on a healthy body, such as Kinesiology Therapeutic Tape, BackJoy seats for better alignment, and Hydroflasks, among other products. The shoes range from casual footwear to athletic and hiking shoes to dress shoes for men and women with prices ranging from $55 to $350. There also is a 50 percent-off selection occupying shelving below the cash register.
In the 1930s Uyeda Shoe Store moved to Palama and, in typical mom-and-pop-store style, the family lived upstairs until the war broke out and they had to relocate their residence. A home was purchased in Makiki, and later, the store, located on land owned by Walter Dillingham's Oahu Railway and Land Co., had to relocate to make way for redevelopment.
The store opened in its present location in 1957. Takashima's late father, Yoichiro, was the eldest son, so at his father's direction he had taken the reins of the family business, aided by his wife, Kazue, who still is living. "She will be 98 in May. … She worked until she was 91, so this will be her seventh year of retirement," Takashima laughed.
For generations the store sold shoes for the entire family, and "back-to-school was our busiest time," Takashima said, noting that the store was open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. After "my father got robbed," the decision was made to close earlier.
In the month between the end of summer school and the beginning of the school year, Claire and her siblings all would work in the store, "and we took up all the chairs," she laughed. "If a customer came in, somebody had to get up," she said, still laughing.
Whereas her father had been the eldest child and took over the business, Takashima is the youngest among her siblings — a sister and two brothers. "I always wanted to own my own business," she said, and jumped at the opportunity her father gave her in the 1980s to continue the family legacy.
She not only had experience in the family's shoe store, but also had sold shoes at the old Liberty House stores in Waikiki and downtown. Her father had been supportive of that decision, she said; besides, "he wasn't going to pay me," she laughed. There is as yet no firm succession plan. When she took over she took steps to differentiate the store and was among the first on Oahu to specialize in selling shoes into which custom orthotics could be fitted. She started getting customer referrals from podiatrists, which remains a big part of the business. Traditional word of mouth also has long been a primary driver of the store's — you'll pardon the expression — foot traffic. Many of her customers' families also date back generations.
Takashima is mulling over plans for a centennial celebration for the family business, and has quite a bit on her plate beyond party planning. The master lease for the property expires at the end of the year, and while extensions are possible, Takashima wanted certainty. So, when a retail space in the adjacent University Plaza became available right behind her current location, she bought it. At about 1,300 square feet, it is slightly larger than the roughly 1,100 square feet she currently leases.
Takashima intends to vacate the current space by the end of the year and move into the space she owns, in University Plaza at 931 University Ave., almost directly back to back with its current location.