Always A Party At Irankoto’s

Charles Kawakami
Owner of Irankoto’s Store

Please tell us about your business. Irankoto’s Store, located in Lihue, is a party supply store mainly for younger kids. We sell items like party favors and balloons. We also sell household products, such as cleaning supplies or things that you use in your kitchen, for example. We even have a f’real milkshake machine.

Why did you open this business? We had the space that was vacant in our building on Rice Street. We used to bring in products similar to this when we had the Big Save markets – before Times purchased our business in 2011 – and the items we brought did pretty well, as far as sales are concerned. I thought it would continue to fill a need on Kauai, so I decided to give it a try.

What other businesses do you still own? We retained a small part of our business after selling Big Save, like convenience stores, a couple of Subways and two gas stations – so we have eight operation units now.

What does the business name mean? For the old-time Japanese, iran koto translates to “meaningless.” I grew up in a family of seven kids. I’m the youngest, and the age difference between the eldest and me was 18 years. We were always in business, and everybody worked. I was the last one and, really, when I was growing up, I used to have to fend for myself a lot. I used to get into trouble every so often, and the remarks my older siblings and parents used to always tell me was iran koto. You’re doing meaningless things; we’re all working hard and you’re not. It just stuck with me, and I appreciate the fact that nobody in the family gave up on me, and supported me all the way.

Where did you grow up and what high school did you attend? I was raised in Waimea and attended Mid-Pacific Institute on Oahu.

What did you do after you graduated from high school? I went to school on Oahu at the University of Hawaii for a half a year and wasn’t that serious about getting an education at the time, so I joined the Army for three years. I was stationed in California, Georgia and Germany. When I was in the service, I realized that I’d better get serious about doing something because I didn’t want to be in the Army for the rest of my life. I came back to Kauai in 1963 then went off to California and earned a bachelor of business administration at the University of Southern California.

What was your first job after college? I worked for JC Penney in California. It started establishing stores in Hawaii, and I helped establish a store in Hilo, and then several years later, I was transferred to Oahu. I eventually came back home and joined the family business, which was Big Save. Big Save Corporation was established in 1958, but before then, my parents had other businesses. My dad must have started his business in the late 1920s.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your business? To see happy customers come in and see the value that they can get. It’s nice just to provide something for the community.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your business? Getting recognized so that more people know about us.

What makes you get up every day and go to work? Paying the bills. Plus, I think at my age, we should try to keep as active as we can. I should be retired, but I see so many people who retire and just disappear or waste away, and I don’t want that to happen to me, so I make myself go to work.

What sets your business apart? We have a pretty good selection of party gifts and supplies. I think our prices are really competitive because we basically bring the items direct from the source without a wholesaler or middle man.

Open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

4273 Rice St., Lihue 245-5809