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.
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