Lee Cataluna: The Short Life And Quiet Death Of A Village Post Office - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

In the last days of the Waikane Village Post Office, Nadine Tokuzato was asked by a collector to postmark a stack of letters and packages with the distinctive green ink.

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It was then she realized the mark of the brief chapter in her little store’s long history might someday be seen as a collector’s item, so she postmarked some envelopes to send to friends, just in case those ever became valuable.

The final day of the Waikane Village Post Office was Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

After that, the green stamp, the mossy and weather-beaten U.S. Postal Service banner outside and the shelves of flat-rate boxes blocking the front door were all going back to the U.S. Postal Service. The eight-year run of the post office inside the 124-year-old store came to a quiet end.

The small land section of Waikane, between Waiahole and Kualoa on the Windward side of Oahu, had its own post office and its own postmark once before, in the late 1800s. Otherwise, the closest post offices are seven miles in one direction in Kaneohe, and six miles in the other direction in Kaaawa.

Waikane is a rural area with 576 people reported in the 2020 census. It’s a cliché to say everybody knows everybody, but Nadine’s son, Alden, happily greets each customer by name and gives a quick bio of that person and their family history to anyone new in the store who might need an introduction.

Almost all of their customers are Windward-side residents, people they’ve known for decades, kids tumbling in after school for a snack, work crews on lunch break picking up some of Nadine’s famous fried chicken and a roll of old-fashioned maki sushi.

Waikane Store doesn’t get a lot of “destination traffic” like Leonard’s malasadas or Matsumoto’s shave ice, and tourists wander in only to inquire about the fruit stand next door. (“It’s still closed? I’ll call the lady for you,” Nadine tells yet another tourist asking about fruit bowls. “She’s at home, but maybe she’s resting. I’ll find out.”)

The store, first, has always been hyper-local and dearly loved. It’s up busy Kamehameha Highway from the suburban sprawl of Kaneohe, but it still feels remote.

“Pizza Hut doesn’t even deliver out here,” Alden Tokuzato said.

Nadine Tokuzato and her son Alden Tokuzato stand outside the Waikane Store with the mossy banner that has been there for eight years. Lee Cataluna/Civil Beat/2022

The store was founded in 1898 as Wah Chan Store. In 1959, Nadine’s parents bought the business. Nadine took over in 1972.

In 2014, the Tokuzatos applied to be a Village Post Office at the suggestion of their postal carrier. Nadine was excited to get the contract. She was ready to take on the extra work between rolling sushi, marinating chicken and ringing up customers.

“I had to learn everything. I had to ask, ‘Anything flammable? Hazardous? Liquid? Perishable?’ For every box, I have to answer the questions. One time I forgot to ask. Good thing the box was from my neighbor. I had to run over there and ask.”

The services of a Village Post Office are basic. Customers can pick up and send flat-rate boxes and buy stamps, but it’s not a place to receive mail. A big metal mailbox for outgoing letters was installed outside.

But mail services weren’t a big draw. The make-your-own Slush Puppy machine saw way more action.

Kanani Alos, postmaster of the Kaneohe Post Office, who was responsible for oversight of the operation in the Waikane Store, sounded sad about the end to the little outpost.

“It was a hard call for us to close down the Village Post Office operation at the Waikane Store. Nadine and her team are fantastic. Unfortunately, the amount of revenue generated by the operation did not justify the expense of our contract with the store,” she said.

Nadine Tokuzato puts the Village Post Office green mark on outgoing mail on the last day of the postal service contract in her store. Lee Cataluna/Civil Beat/2022

The Tokuzatos could only agree.

“One year, at Christmas time, a customer came in with four boxes to mail,” Nadine said.

“You know it’s slow when we remember the one guy with four boxes,” Alden said, chuckling.

“We never had a Christmas rush,” Nadine said.

Waikane Store stayed open through the pandemic, and customers who would otherwise pick up pre-made meals at the mall started coming for Nadine’s food instead, so business picked up. Then, local social media stars posted TikToks and Instagram videos praising the store’s readymade food and the Tokuzatos’ friendly energy, which brought younger customers through the door (squeezing past those USPS shelves.)

While business picked up, Nadine never really got into the habit of asking, “Would you like some stamps with your sushi?”  She knew the end of the contract was coming up, but she couldn’t make herself hustle to sell stamps.

The Tokuzatos have a unique business model: there’s a tip jar on the counter, but anyone who leaves a tip gets gently scolded — “Ah, no need! No need” — and then will find a little something extra, like a free Portuguese sausage with spicy mustard sushi roll, tucked into their bag to even it out.

“Losing the post office stuff is not really a big loss to the business,” Nadine said, as she carefully put the green postmark on some of the last letters.

They weren’t sure when the postal service would come to collect all the stuff, but when asked what they planned for the space when the shelves were gone, Alden smiled. “Nothing. We’re going to open both doors.”

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

Cataluna caught the vibe of the store. Easy kine aloha sprinkled with humor and grace. Alden's a musician, so no forget to pick up one of his CD's after you get the fried chicken and maki sushi. <3

nalo_dude · 11 months ago

Beautiful story! I feel like starting a campaign to get the Post Office back for them. In these crazy times, especially with the upcoming election (I live in PA currently with elderly mom but reside in Kaneohe) what a hopeful story. When I return in January, I'm a gonna visit these wonderful people and bring a few friends who need a lift!

LisaB · 11 months ago

Great story but sad we are losing another part of small, local Hawaii.

Bothrops · 11 months ago

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