A Longs, Longs Time Ago
Since 1959, Longs Drugs at Ala Moana Center has been there for locals and visitors alike. While the mall has undergone lots of changes, Longs remains in the same spot, providing the same stellar service local folks count on
In many ways, Longs Drugs is much like any family member who knows you intimately.
It’s where your grandma or grandpa might have taken you to choose a pack of bubblegum after school. Or where you purchased an air freshener for your very first car, and candy lei for graduation. It’s where you buy wrapping paper and ribbon for every birthday, and chips before you hit the beach. It’s where you relax after work, roaming the aisles and taking advantage of that week’s sales. It’s where you ask your doctor to call in prescriptions, and where you stock up on cough drops and Kleenex. It’s where you run into friends you saw the other day, and others you haven’t seen in a while.
At a time when it seems everything rapidly is changing, Longs Drugs is a welcome reminder that some things don’t.
Its Ala Moana Center store is a testament to this, having been in the same spot since 1959 — the same year the mall itself opened. While the recent addition of the center’s new Ewa Wing may have altered it a little, it hasn’t changed what defines Longs.
“It’s important to Longs Drugs to maintain a strong tie to the communities in which we serve,” says general manager, Hawaii operations Harold Morse. “We are happy that our newly renovated store in Ala Moana Center provides us with the opportunity to continually serve the Waikiki community in a convenient and easily accessible location.
“Our Longs Drugs team is committed to providing our customers with a warm, more personalized shopping experience and best-in-class pharmacy service.”
Jason Kumasaka began working at this very Longs Drugs store 20 years ago, getting his start with the company as a clerk. What followed was a promotion to department manager, as well as stints at other Longs Drugs stores on the island until one day, the store manager at Ala Moana Center retired — and Kumasaka was tapped to replace him.
“I would have never imagined being given this opportunity as a newly promoted store manager three years ago,” he admits.
He describes the Ewa Wing expansion as a culture shock of sorts. After all, while Longs Drugs managed to secure its spot in the midst of all that change, Kumasaka and his crew watched other longtime anchor stores, such as Sears, close.
Kumasaka admits that he was a little worried at the concept of the expansion, fearing Longs would have to move from its original location. So it was a relief to learn that General Growth Properties would be keeping the store in its same space.
In welcoming new retailers to the mall, the layout of the store did shift a little. No amount of space was lost, though it did require Longs Drugs to shut down half its store during the holidays.
But now that it’s all over and the Ewa Wing has been opened to the public, he can’t help but feel enthusiastic. A host of new stores are right around the corner, and other major retailers including Foodland and Shirokiya soon will join Longs Drugs in the Ewa Wing.
“We’re excited,” says Kumasaka.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and Longs is as busy as ever. Crowds walk in and out in steady streams, some purchasing omiyage while others stop at the pharmacy or grab household goods.
This, as Kumasaka puts it, encapsulates the Longs Drugs experience.
“The mall really brings in all walks of life,” he says. “We have a large transient population here, from tourists to seniors to local people.”
Because of this, he describes the Longs Drugs in Ala Moana Center as unique. You won’t find shopping carts here, just shopping baskets. This is where grab-and-go thrives.
“I think one of the things we can pride ourselves in is this mall is being supported right now by tourists, and it’s not a secret,” he adds.
It’s not uncommon to see local products like Lion Coffee and Hawaiian Host chocolates disappear quickly from shelves.
And then, of course, there’s the fact that Longs Drugs simply offers diversity in its products. Its pharmacy, for example, despite its location in a mall, still attracts many customers.
“When you really think about it, people don’t go to a mall to get a prescription,” says Kumasaka. “But, for our store … we still have a lot of people who come here (for that).”
So while aisles may have moved around and its mall entrance has been renovated, not much else is different at Longs Drugs at Ala Moana Center. Service, says Kumasaka, has always been the company’s strong point — and that won’t be changing anytime soon.
“It’s really about the people we serve and the community,” he says. “It’s great knowing that the community can come to Longs for much more than just their prescriptions.”
LONGTIME LONGS EMPLOYEES
Forty-one years ago, Carol Tamura decided to apply to work at Longs Drugs and ended up at the Ala Moana Center store, where she’s remained in the cosmetics department ever since. Things may have changed throughout the years, but Tamura says she and longtime customers are pleased that Longs still is in its original spot.
“A lot of people are so thankful,” she says, adding that it has even garnered her some hugs.
Jannie Lee and her then-fiancé were getting married and wanted to pay for the wedding themselves to relieve their parents of any financial burdens. So she applied for a job at Longs Drugs, where she’s worked for 38 years — long enough that customers recognize her outside the store.
Fun fact: She and Tamura are close friends. It’s one of the reasons Lee has stayed with the company all these years.
“I don’t want to miss her,” she says.
Alma Toki got her start with Longs Drugs 39 years ago at a store in Hilo. She’s been at the company’s Ala Moana Center location now for 36 years.
What’s kept her here is no complex reasoning, either.
“The people I work with,” she says of why she’s stayed with the company for so long.
These days, Toki works in the store’s offi ce and of the new layout and Ewa Wing, soft-spoken Toki says, “It’s nice; this side is really nice.”
With the most seniority of the group, Georganne Baligad will mark her 46th year with the company in June.
She works in the cosmetics department — and has for the past 44 years — and can’t imagine being in any other.
She points particularly to aspects of her job like helping people fi nd what they need, keeping up with trends and conversing with visitors.
“I like doing this kind of work,” she says. “I enjoy it.”