Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wigwam Stores

The other day my mom was talking to me about buying dish towels, and instead of saying "Walmart" she said "Wigwam". I was like, "WIGWAM!!! Oh my God, I totally forgot about that store." Do you remember Wigwam Stores? I found the following info on Wikipedia. It says at one time there were 15 Wigwam Stores in Hawaii. I kinda remember one I think where City Mill in Kaimuki is now. Am I right? The article talks about a local disc jockey who broke a world record by talking nonstop for 2 weeks while in the store. Was that Akuhead Pupule? I vaguely remember that. The picture is a 1968 Star Bulletin photo that I found online of the Kalihi Wigwam store.

Homer Powell, founder of the Wigwam stores, completed college as a history major at Northwest Nazarene College in Nampa, Idaho. He then went on to get his Masters Degree at the University of Washington with the financial opportunity of the GI bill which allowed veterans of World War II to attend college.

Financially, times were particularly hard for Homer Powell. His pastor at the Nazarene church where he attended suggested he buy army surplus and then sell them at a higher profit.
After World War II there was an over-abundance of army surplus. The army sold many goods in bulk to try to offset the enormous cost of war. As a college student Homer had no means of purchasing the surplus. He went to his basketball coach at Northwest Nazarene College to get a loan for his business venture. His basketball coach, Lloyd Adler, did not just gave him his first loan of $500 but became his first partner is business. He took the $500 loan and $500 of his own money and decided to purchase a $1000 worth of sleeping bags since he knew he could sell them quite easily without a huge risk. He sold them for about $11,000. After that he knew he was on to something.

Homer Powell then got another tip. He found a sale of a war surplus plane in Texas. He and his brother-in-law and future business partner, Dallas E. Ortman, set out for Texas where they purchased an AT6 trainer and flew the plane back to Seattle Washington, and then around the country purchasing more army surplus goods. After his trip around the country he opened a makeshift store from a 150-foot-long (46 m) tent right across the street from the Boeing Company aircraft plant in Seattle. The makeshift store was an instant hit. Homer was making about $5000 a day in profit. Homer’s dream was becoming a reality. Wigwam became the name after their two original stores made from a large tent.

Soon store after store was being built in Seattle, and it was time to expand to another state. Marvin Shelby, a long time friend, told Homer that Hawaii would be a great opportunity to expand to next. He felt that Wigwam would have few competitors and would have great success amongst the native population. Homer and the partners took his advice and opened up their first store in Hawaii one year before it became a state in 1958. The store had even more success than it did in Seattle.

At Wigwam’s peak in Hawaii there were a total of 15 stores. Some of them were called Dodies, a local chain of department stores that Wigwam bought out. All the stores are filled with stories that add to the character of the company. The stores in Hawaii were a huge success amongst the local population, which is rare considering the resistance of Americanism throughout the state’s history.

The Wigwam Company was always trying to come up with innovative ways to bring about business. In the Hawaiian stores, the company would have carnivals in the parking lot. The company even on a few occasions would bring in elephants and other exotic animals to entertain the customers. Wigwam advertised on every medium possible. They ran television and radio commercials. The company placed ads and coupons in newspapers where their stores were located. They also advertised in magazines when possible. One of their more unusual ways they used to publicize the company was in Hawaii when they hired a local radio disk jockey that wanted to break a world record. He wanted to see if he could talk on the air without falling asleep for two entire weeks. Homer Powell opened one of his stores in Honolulu to him where he could broadcast. This way the local population could participate in breaking the world record by helping him stay awake while he was locked in the store during and after store hours. With the help of Wigwam he was able to break the world record.

In 1975, there was a proxy fight amongst the company. Many of the major investors along with one of the original partners, Adler, wanted Wigwam and its sister department stores to open all seven days of the week, including Sunday, which in past was always closed for the Christian tradition of Sabbath. Homer Powell was a strong Nazarene, a denomination of Christianity, and did not want to have his company opened on Sundays. So, the other four partners decided to eradicate the problem and buy Adler out of the company. In order to do so they needed to sell many stores to raise enough money to make the buy out. Homer Powell decided to sell off the entire Hawaiian and Seattle sectors of the company. Selling these store made enormous amount of profit and the partners easily bought out Adler. By this time Homer Powell was ready to step down as president of the Wigwam business and soon retire.


K and S said...

OMG! blast from the past. I don't remember where these stores were in Hawaii just remember the name. Also remember "Aku".

K and S said...

for that matter...GEMs, Holiday Mart, Gibson, Pay'nSave also blasts from the past...

jalna said...

Wow, really plenny stores came and went yeah, Kat! Like my mom, I still say, "Holiday Mart" sometimes instead of Don Quijote.

Betty Townsend said...

I saw the title of your post and went "Oh my gosh". I have some history with Wigwam. Right after I graduated from high school I worked at the first and only Wigwam store in Hawaii, at the time. I first started working in the stock room. Then worked in the department that made all the sale signs that were placed around the store. I was there for just a few months. I got a job closer to home after leaving there. I use to have to get up really early and left the house about 6 am and drove into town with my next door neighbor. He worked at Pearl Harbor and would drop me off at the store. And then pick me up after he got off.

The man that managed the store attended 1st Church of the Nazarene in Honolulu, my family attended Kailua Church of the Nazarene. Because of that connection I was able to get a job at Wigwam's.

That was over 50 years ago. I had heard the name "Homer Powell" for much of my growing up years. I knew a lot of people that worked there.

K and S said...

me, I sometimes say Daiei :)

jalna said...

Wow, memories yeah Betty! Nice neighbor you had.

Hahaha, funny, Kat.

Erick said...

I kind of remember Wigwam, can't remember where the stores were though. I kind of remember the old Sears on Beretania too.

jalna said...

I don't really remember Old Sears, but I clearly remember waiting at the bus stop near there on King Street to go "Up Puunui" to my grandparent's house.

chines said...

I was very little but I have vague memories of the Wigwam Stores (in Seattle) and have been trying to find pictures, so thank you for posting this!

jalna said...

Oh, my pleasure Chines! Thanks for dropping by!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for posting this. My name is Mark Shelby. It was my father, Marvin Shelby's idea to bring Wigwam Stores to Hawaii from Seattle. My dad ran the Hawaii Wigwam stores from our main store on Dillingham that you have pictured. I first started working for Wigwam when I was just 13 years old in 1967 for just $1.35 per hour. I cleaned that parking lot you have pictured before the sun came up that summer! Dad taught me what hard work was all about!

Homer Powell was my Godfather. Such a wonderful man! Wigwam wanted to grow so they sold shares of stock. Later the shareholders wanted Wigwam to sell alcohol, cigarettes and be open on Sundays.

This was against the priciples of the founding partners so they decided to sell Wigwam. It changed hands a few time. Payless and Pay n Save. But these people could not make the store work.

My Dad was a master retailer, and he always had the good of the local people first and foremost and they were close to his heart. A huge corporation from the mainland would never understand this, so they both Failed!

Keep the memories alive of our good old Hawaii Days! What fun to remember the good times!

I don't have a Google account so I am posting this under Anonymous, to get it posted before I lose it. If you would like to email me, you can find me at

God Bless!

Mark Shelby

Anonymous said...

Hi Betty Townsend,

Yes my Dad and our family attended Honolulu First Church of the Nazarene at 408 Judd Street, since the 1950's. I've been attending there since I was 6 months old. I'm sure that was my Dad that helped you, Marvin Shelby.

So you must have worked at our very first store across from the Meadow Gold Dairy on Dillingham Blvd. The property was owned by Frank Fasi. A good friend of my Dads, although they had many arguments about the leaky roof! LOL! I remember Dad heading to the store at 3am many times to move buckets and plastic tarps during heavy rain storms!

God Bless!

Aloha!.....Mark Shelby

jalna said...

Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my blog. I was quite intrigued reading about the history of the Wigwam stores, and your writing about your dad brings it even closer to home. He was an amazing man. Betty and I have gotten close as blogger buddies. I'll e-mail her and make sure she gets to see your comment. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jalna,

May I add more history to your blog?

Do you remember Wigwam Quality Furniture?

It was next to our flagship store you have pictured on Dillingham Blvd.

It was owned by our good family friend Bill Stone. I actually worked in the furniture warehouse when I was 15 years old after school, before Dad owned it.

Dad bought out Wigwam Quality Furniture in 1978 and changed the name to "The Marsh Company Home Furnishings". I moved back to Honolulu in 1980 from college in San Diego to help Dad with our family furniture stores.

MARSH stood for Marvin Shelby....and Mark Shelby.

I eventually became the main store manager on Dillingham. Then Vice President and Operations Manager of The Marsh Company Home Furnishings. Do you remember all of our TV commercials? Do you remember "The Big Sale"...?

I helped produce those TV commercials.

I bet you have family members and friends who bought furniture from our stores.

Dad ran the Marsh Company just like Wigwam. Bringing the very best value possible to the people of Hawaii!

Marvin Shelby loved our Island home like no other!

I'm so thankful I had a father like him! He taught me so much.

God Bless!

Aloha!.....Mark Shelby

jalna said...

Thank you sooo much for this update, Mark! I remember "The Big Sale"!

Anonymous said...

Aloha! Jalna,

May I ad a little more Wigwam history for you?

Do you remember the Checkers and Pogo show. Marvin Shelby worked with Cicle Heftel of KGMB to try and get an afternoon kids show on air. Dad was Big on Toys and loved kids! And he wanted to create an audience to advertise to. You can look up Cec Heftel on the net, my Dads good friend who passed away a couple of years ago. And you can also look up Checkers and Pogo, and even find some youtube video of the show.

The Checkers and Pogo show began, and Wigwam was the main advertising sponsor of the show, all toys. Dad then asked myself and my good friend Greg Litsey to help with the TV commercials displaying the toys on sale. Harold Litsey, Greg's Dad worked for Wigwam for years, since the Seattle days. And then later started Dodies Fabric Stores, which became a part of Wigwam on Oahu also.

Greg and myself started doing Wigwam Toy Commercials at KGMB in 1964. I was just 9 years old. Our very first commercial was demonstrating the Hula Hoop in 1964! What fun! Do you remember? We did many others including riding bikes, playing games, throwing darts, etc. Some of your readers might just remember those Wigwam TV commercials on Checkers and Pogo. And just how much fun did our local kids have with Checkers and Pogo!

What a wonderful time we had!

Aloha!......Mark Shelby

jalna said...

What a wonderful bit of history Mark! I so do remember Checkers and Pogo and Cec Heftel. Checkers and Pogo was my favorite thing to watch back then. You did the Wigwam Toy commercials!! Wow!

nkwebmama said...

So funny to find your blog. For some reason, the Wigwam jingle has been running through my head all day, and I haven't thought of that store in over 30 years! We had one where I grew up in Auburn, WA. I was trying to find out if someone had posted the jingle somewhere to see if I was remembering it correctly. If I remember, the lyrics went something like: "Wigwam. The Wigwam Store. Your dollar buys more at the Wigwam Store. WIGWAM!"

jalna said...

I know what you mean, nkwebmama. I hadn't thought about Wigwam for so long that I practically forgot about it . . . that is until all of a sudden my mom calls Walmart "Wigwam" by mistake. I think you're right about the jingle!! Check back every once in awhile. Maybe Mark Shelby can confirm the words for you. Or better yet you can e-mail him if you like at I'm sure he'd be more than happy to help you.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's the Wigwam jingle excatly. and don't forget the drums at the end!...hehe

Jalna, a little more history for your blog at this link below.

I don't know how to turn that into a clickable link at your site. Feel free to do so if you wish.

My sister Kathi works at Kamehameha. I'm living in San Diego for now. And Mom is in an assisted living facility on Oahu.

Aloha! Mark Shelby

Anonymous said...

jalna, my link is not working so I did a copy and paste. See below.

Aloha! Mark Shelby


Sunday, May 26, 2002



Marvin Clyde Shelby, former owner and general manager of Hawaii Wigwam Stores, died May 22. The Kalihi Wigwam store, shown here in 1968, was part of a chain of "supermarket department stores."


Hawaii retailer owned
isle Wigwam and
Marsh Co. stores


By Diana Leone

Marvin Clyde Shelby, 79, of Honolulu, former owner and manager of Wigwam Stores and the Marsh Company, died May 22 at Queen's Medical Center.

Shelby was born in Matthews, Mo., and came to Hawaii as one of the original partners in the Seattle-based Wigwam chain in 1964. He had begun with the company as a part-timer while in college.

The Wigwam chain, which called itself a "supermarket department store" opened its first Hawaii store in 1958 on Dillingham Boulevard in Kalihi. By the time it was sold to Pay Less Drug Stores of Oakland, Calif., in 1971, the chain had annual sales of $37.4 million at 43 stores in Arizona, California, Washington and Hawaii.

Wigwam's Hawaii chain consisted of seven Wigwam stores on Oahu and one in Hilo and eight Dodi's Fabric stores on Oahu and one in Hilo.

Shelby continued as vice president and general manager for Wigwam in Hawaii for a year after the sale to Pay Less, then retired.

Shelby also was owner and president of the Marsh Company, which he founded in 1979. It included the Marsh Co. and Furniture Warehouse outlets on Dillingham Boulevard, the Marsh Co. store in Waipahu and four other Marsh Co. or furniture Warehouse stores on Oahu and Maui that were operated under franchise agreements. In 1988, C.S. Wo bought the Marsh Company.

The Wigwam stores took their name from the flagship Seattle store's beginnings in a tent.

Shelby is survived by his wife, Dorothy "Betty," son Mark "Kim," daughter Kathilyn, brother Charles Lee, sister Emma Lou Sloan, and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 4 p.m. Wednesday at the First Church of the Nazarene, with service at 5:30 p.m. Moanalua Mortuary is in charge of arrangements.


jalna said...

Thanks Mark. I didn't know how to turn the address in your comment into an actual link.

Sans Souci said...

I lived on Young Street right behind the Wigwam store on King Street. In fact, I remember it being built. In the old days the roof of the building was parking, but was converted into tennis courts after they sold to Payless. I do recall it was closed on SUndays because the parking lot was a great playground for us, especially the ramp, which emptied onto young Street. The store also had a back entrance. The front of the building opened up to the home plate gates of Honolulu Stadium. The ground parking lot was Suzuki Shave Ice stand (sign is in Art Suehiro's Honolulu Stadium book). I believe there was also a fountain restaurant similar to those found in Woolworth's. The ice was really good there (chewy). The thing I remember the most about Wigwam was that its low prices reflected the quality of its merchandise. I believe the 1965 Hawaii Islanders' yearbook has an aerial photo of the stadium and Wigwam across the street.

jalna said...

What great memories Sans Souci!! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

David said...

I used to live in Waipahu on Awamoi St. from 1966 to 1971 and I remember the Wigwam stores there. One was not far from the house. I even remember their selection of Hawai'ian print clothing was better than some stores in Ala Moana Center. Are any of them still opened?

jalna said...

No David, no more any Wigwam stores in Hawaii anymore.

Anonymous said...

your money buys more at the wigwam store! jingle 1962-64

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is trippy. I was having a mean bout of nostalgia for Hawaii back in the day...and came across this blog with the "Wigwam Store" google hit as well as some food blogs. One of my best friends - her father used to own this store (Bill Stone) and I sent her a picture of it. She was just tickled. I love your website!! The best things I stumble on by chance and your blog is one of them. Aloha!

jalna said...

Awwww, thanks Anon. Thanks for dropping by and sharing.

Mark Shelby said...

To the poster above. Bill Stone, My lifelong friend owned Wigwam Quality Furniture. His daughters are Patty and Linda. I played with them as a kid in Honolulu. Bill did not own the main Wigwam Dept. Stores. My Father Marvin Shelby did, along with several partners. My Dad ended up buying Wigwam Quality Furniture from Bill Stone and changed the name to The Marsh Company Home Furnishings. MAR=Marvin....SH=Shelby I think I touched on this history a few post's back. So fun to remember the good old days of Hawaii!

Aloha!......Mark Shelby

Mark Shelby said...

Aloha! Jalna....

I wanted to write you and say thank you for posting your blog about Wigwam Stores.

I had such a wonderful island childhood full of such great memories! Like the time Duke Kahanamoku signed his autograph when I bought my first ever 9' 6" Duke Kahanamoku surfboard in 1967 at the old Original Wigwam on Dillingham. I shook the Dukes hand that day! He was my hero!

And because of your blog. An awesome old friend from my teenage days at Honolulu First Church of the Nazarene found me! And she emailed me because I posted my email address on your blog.

The internet is an amazing tool!

Thanks again for your Wigwam Stores blog!

And May God Richly Bless You!

Much Aloha!.......Mark Shelby

jalna said...

You're so welcome Mark. This post has become one of my favorites. I so enjoy hearing from people who remember the stores from back in the day.

Anonymous said...

As s child.. Our family used to go the wig wam in Kenmoore Wa...this is where we bought our little saddle shoes...My dad got to eat his bag of popcorn and us kids got to ride the electric elephant outside the store.. Good times:)

jalna said...

Awww . . . what great memories Anon! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Yes....we had over 20 Wigwam Stores in the greater Seattle area. That's where Wigwam got it's start after WWll. I used to ride the rides too! It was started in a dirt parking lot near Lake City in a large war surplus tent! By my Godfather Homer Powell. Selling war surplus and then later home goods. It grew into an amazing company before selling out to Pay Less in about 1973. With many stores in Seattle, Hawaii and Arizona. It was the Walmart of it's day before there was ever a Walmart. The best times of my life!


Mark Shelby

Anonymous said...

From 9 to 9 your dollar buys, your dollar buys more at the Wigwam store. WIGWAM!


Anonymous said...

Aloha! Steve!

That's so cool that you remember our Wigwam TV slogan!

Pretty amazing actually!

Thank you!

God Bless!

Mark Shelby

Ron Walters said...

During high school, I worked at he Wigwam on Kam hi way. I remember Mr. Skagerberg (not sure if I spelled it right) as the manager. He was real good at catching shop lifters . I worked in the tire department most of the time.

After graduation in '61, I moved to Phoenix, AZ and was going to work for the Wigwam store there. It was called the Totem because there was a small local store with the Wigwam name and would not change.

It was a great place to work and the employees were all fun to work with.

Ron Walters said...

Thanks for posting the Wigwam history. Good memories.

jalna said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment here, Ron!

Anonymous said...


Fred Skagerberg was a good family friend from Seattle. My father Marvin Shelby brought Fred over to be the manager of our first Wigwam store on Dillingham Blvd.

I enjoyed your story! You probably saw me in the store at times. I am Marvin Shelby's son. I was just 6 years old when you worked there.

Fred passed away over ten years ago from cancer. You would never find a kinder friend than Fred!

Aloha! .....Mark Shelby

lost Kalihi boy. said...

I don't remember the store across from Meadow Gold,I remember going to the store down further Dillingham near Boulevard Saimin and Jolly Roger restaurant.It became a Pay and Save later with a grocery store at the Diamond Head end called Emjay's.Wow this blog took me waaaayy back.Mahalo very much!!!I sure miss Hawaii especially Kalihi.

Mark Shelby said...

lost Kalihi boy...The Wigwam Store across from Meadowgold Dairy was our original and very first store in the islands. Started in the 1950's. It was a building that was owned by our former Mayor Frank Fasi. After the Wigwam stock proxy fight, Wigwam sold out to Payless. The new stock holders were demanding that Wigwam sell liquor and cigarettes. My Godfather Homer Powell refused to do so, so Wigwam was sold. Then later Payless sold out to Pay n Save. The reason why they are no longer in existence, is because they failed to keep my Father Marvin Shelby in charge. They had no idea how to run retail stores in our islands. Those were the good old days of Hawaii.


Mark Shelby

Anonymous said...

I remember Wigwam in the location that Frank Fasi owned across from Foremost Dairy where Maukais is today. My Dad worked there during the Holidays directing traffic mostly and then one year drove a supply truck during the graveyard shift. He drove from the warehouse which was near the airport to various Wigwam Stores. I went with him one night and we delivered to the Moilili Store. and then the Kailua Store. He would try to keep his employment a secret so the congregation of his church would not know he was moonlighting! Yes great memories of Wigwam!

Anonymous said...

By the way here is how to make a link clickable.

Jim Blanchard said...

Born and raised on Oahu, '59 to '72. Peggy Anne Siegmund, one of the Wigwam commercial singers, TV personalities was a family friend. I remember sitting around the lanai singing with her. Was on Checkers and Pogo in '68 or so. Stomped da kine balloon. Aloha to all, Jim Blanchard, Kailua.

jalna said...

Hey Jim!! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

Curtis Liu said...

I remember the Kailua Wigwam store was located where Foodland is today, however it was situated with its back to the marsh on Hamakua and the front faced makai towards the ocean. Bad drivers at that time were said to have gotten their licenses from Wigwam....

Patti Garrett said...

I worked at the Wigwam Furniture store on Dillingham. My manager was Elmer Tachera. He was an awesome boss! I worked there through the change when it became the Marsh Company.I remember the big warehouse sale--it was crazy!! We also has a booth at a trade fair at the Blaisdell Arena. It was fun. We were all drinking MaiTais--even the big bosses.I don't remember if we did much selling.I also worked at the Ala Moana store.

Mark Shelby said...

Hi Patty! I remember you! Thanks for posting! You were always a good hard worker! I forgot that you were there even before the change, from Wigwam Quality Furniture to The Marsh Company.

~Mark "Kim" Shelby

KSO said...

When she was young, my mom used to work at Wigwam, in Kalihi. We knew the late Marvin Shelby and his wife Betty (I didn't know it was Dorothy) through the First Church of the Nazarene on Judd Street. I was still a kid in grade school. I remember the Marsh Company on Dillingham Blvd. in the 1980's. I remembered Pay 'N Save and Jolly Roger's Drive Inn close by. GEM's too. The Marsh Company (in Kalihi) turned into Saver's. GEM's changed into Grocery Outlet; later Chuck E. Cheese's, a Satellite City Hall, a DMV, Young's Fish Market, a 7-11 and Kamehameha Bakery (from North School St./Houghtailing St.). Jolly Roger's became into O' Reilly's Auto Parts Store. Eki Cyclery, which was next to it, still stands until this day (in 2016) !

Anonymous said...

I remember going to the Wigwam the is now Marukai across Gaspro on Dillingham Blvd. It seemed so big to me at the time. The toy section with was at the makai end of the store. They must have had the largest GI Joe selection in state, down to the green foot locker made of wood.
That store closed and moved to the Dillingham location pictured above. I remember going to this new location several times for when they set up a huge tent in the parking lot where Popeyes Chicken & Burger King are now, for some kind of celebration or sale; we went because they had hotdogs cheap. Reminds me of the first joke I ever heard : What did the myna bird say when it flew over Wigwam? ..... "Cheap, cheap!". THanks for the post above confirming my friend's memory of a rooftop tennis courts at the location across from the old "termite palace " stadium. Thanks for the memories. Scooterguru

Anonymous said...

Good day! This post couldn't be written any better!
Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate!
He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him.
Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!