A clearance sale had moved most of the store’s merchandise over the previous week. This made it easier for a crew of workers and friends to break down displays and clean up the Molokai Surf shop in its final day of business on Saturday.
Now Jerry Leonard, owner of Molokai Surf, sat in the middle of his empty store reflecting on his 20 years in the Molokai retail business.
“I’m ready,” said Leonard. “It’s a happy occasion, long overdue. Not as much fun as it used to be and it’s a good thing … No regrets, it’s just the times.”
Molokai Surf, like many businesses on Molokai, has been on a downward trajectory for more than two years. Leonard recognized the trend and put it up for sale two years ago.
“The store has been for sale and I’ve been wanting to get out,” said Leonard. “And then I started reading the figures and I said this is going to come out of my pocket to stay open so I just instantly pulled the plug.”
Leonard sees the overall economy as the main reason for closing the store. “There’s just not enough business to stay in business,” he said.
Some business was lost when the Molokai public schools began to require school uniforms. “The school uniforms really took our T-shirt sales away. It just dawned on me. It’s good for the schools, and all that, but it would be nice if we had a part of the merchandising.”
But a bigger cause has been the increasing costs of doing business. “I think the biggest thing was gasoline prices,” said Leonard. “People don’t have money to spend anymore like they used to, everything is more expensive. Products coming in cost more, so you have to mark up your selling price. Shipping costs more. My costs go up and it comes to a point where I can’t afford that.
“A good example is the slippers we sell,” he added. “We started selling these for maybe $22 a pair, now they’re $42 a pair, doubled. A lot of prices have doubled. Everything is more expensive.”
“Our best selling things were the slippers, just about everybody on Molokai has a pair, and sunglasses,” said Leonard. “Arnette (sunglasses) in its day, I couldn’t keep them in stock. But they are almost double what they used to be.”
Leonard started the business in 1992, shortly after getting out of farming. He began by selling skateboard parts on Saturdays at the local swap meet in the Molokai Credit Union parking lot.
“Then I brought in boogie boards and surfing stuff and I could see if I had a shop I could sell more. One thing led to another and all of a sudden I had a shop,” explained Leonard.
Leonard opened up shop on Ala Malama Street across from Friendly Market. Although he called it the Molokai Surf shop, selling surfboards was never central to the business.
“Surfboards have never been a big seller in here,” he said. “When I first opened I brought surfboards in and I died with them. They (the locals) just don’t buy surfboards; they’ll buy used boards or go off-island to buy boards. They’re just like decorations almost.”
In 2000, Leonard moved the business to a newer building on Kamehameha V Highway in Kaunakakai. The building used to house The Molokai Times newspaper, Kenpo Martial Arts Center, KMKK radio station and the Subway sandwich shop. Except for the building’s owner, Dr. Dan McGuire and his private practice, the other businesses have abandoned the two-story building.
After 45 years on Molokai, Leonard still loves Molokai and has no plans to move. “Why go anywhere else, other than just travel?”
Although he has no plans to get back into business, Leonard did say, jokingly, that maybe he should open a combination bakery-radio station, commenting on the recent health department shut down of Kanemitsu Bakery and the failure of KMKK, 102.3 FM, to broadcast over the past few months.
So would he consider getting back into some kind of business?
“No, but your mind is always working. But (if I did) it would be some small thing, maybe a service type thing.”
Clearly, Leonard is relieved to be moving on. “The business is like an anchor, it just ties you down. You can’t go away from it, it’s always there, now I’ll be free.”