Why We Love Longs
By JOANNE ROMERO
As Longs Drugs celebrates the opening of its 50th Hawaii store, at Mililani Mauka, the real story is the unique community-corporate relationship between the people of Hawaii and Longs that goes back to 1954. And it’s all because of the people — both those who shop there and those who work there, many spending entire careers with Longs. Look inside for photo pages of longtime employees
WHETHER IT’S THE STORE CHAIN, THE EMPLOYEES OR THE CUSTOMERS, LONGS HAS PROVEN TIME AND AGAIN THAT IT’S A STAPLE HERE IN HAWAII THAT’S NOT GOING ANYWHERE.
Longs Mililani Mauka recently opened as the company’s 50th store in Hawaii. This marks a milestone for Longs, which has been in business in Hawaii since 1954, five years before statehood – the first store was on the corner of Hotel and Bishop in downtown Honolulu. (The brand opened its first Mainland store in 1938.) And while some might question what it is that has led to such longevity, those in the know agree: It’s the people.
When it comes to working at Longs, employees don’t refer to one another as coworkers. They are family.
“The people are really nice. It’s the best,” says item maintenance specialist Cyd Taniguchi, who has been working for Longs for 35 years. “It’s ohana. Everybody looks out for one another.”
The newest store’s manager, Russell Uemura, also has enjoyed many years at Longs. “This was my first job out of college, and it’s been my full-time job for 39 years,” he says. “It’s been my life, so it’s had a tremendous impact on me.”
Uemura started as a clerk at Longs Kahala and climbed the ladder to store manager at Mililani Marketplace before opening the Mililani Mauka store. Like the stores themselves, the employees have grown and their careers taken off as a result of Longs’ nurturing environment.
“I started off as a cashier,” Taniguchi says. She recalls transitioning into several positions before moving to the district office and her current position in the company’s “planogram” department, which handles strategic product placement. Taniguchi has seen others move up as well.
“I knew most of the store managers when they were clerks,” she says. “It’s a good company to work for.”
The pride the employees take in caring for one another has carried over to the clientele.
“The customers are nice. They are understanding, and they are always loyal,” Taniguchi says.
Shannon Keaton, a Longs customer for more than 20 years, appreciates the friendly atmosphere. “The employees are around more, and it’s easier to find people to help you,” she says. “At other stores, you have to search a lot of times. At Longs, there is always somebody. If they see you looking lost, they’ll ask you if you need help.”
James Kimura also has been a longtime customer. “When I walk into the store, everybody says, ‘Hi, Mr. Kimura … Bye, Mr. Kimura,'” he says. “They really have a lot of etiquette.”
Kimura has been shopping at Longs throughout his life, and it’s the caring employees that have resonated with him most. “They are extraordinary people who work for CVS/Longs,” he says. And when he encounters specific employees that he feels go out of their way to help him, he lets management know.
“When I get respect, I show respect,” he says. “I make sure the people who work for that company get recognized for a job well done. They have really taken care of me.”
Perhaps that’s why Kimura makes sure to visit Longs, the Manana location in particular, every day of the week.
“They are the best place to shop. Nobody can beat Longs,” he says. “I love Longs, really, from my heart. I enjoy coming to the store. It gives me warmth.”
Just a couple weeks ago, Longs opened its 50th store in the 50th State at Mililani Mauka. “It means a lot,” says loss prevention district manager Jason Kamisugi. “It shows that we are making progress, opening new stores.”
Not only is the number significant, but the layout itself is also noteworthy.
This store serves as a prototype with its CVS layout. The aisles are wider, the shelves taller, and the arrangement flows in such a way that customers can walk easily from the front to the back.
Harold Morse, regional manager for Hawaii, says there are plans to remodel four locations this year, using the Mililani Mauka location as a model.
“We will evaluate what works and what doesn’t work in this store,” Morse says, “Then, we’ll apply that to the others.”
“Coupled with our goal of servicing our customers with true ‘aloha spirit,’ Longs has evolved into a one-destination shopping experience in the state of Hawaii,” says Denis Akimoto, CVS Caremark Longs Hawaii director of operations.
And while CVS is a national chain, Longs remains true to its local clientele. The new store opened with a traditional Hawaiian blessing, given by Kahu Sherman Thompson. It has a section dedicated to slippers, an entire aisle for local snacks and candy, and lei in refrigerators.
But perhaps the most telling sign that Longs and its kamaaina culture are here to stay? The spirit of aloha that surrounds you as you walk through the doors.