Maui Food and Dining

“Aunt Patty” retires from Maui mom and pop market after 54 years

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Lifelong friends and co-workers aunties Barbara and Patty share a moment at Pukalani Superette. Together they have worked at the store for 110 years. PC: Andy Gross

I first thought I would be writing a story about an employee retiring after 54 dedicated years on the job.

And, in large part, this is the story of Patty Locey, who will be retiring from her job as a cashier at Pukalani Superette at the end of the month.

But this is also a story about sisterhood, and family and love; of loss and memory, and enduring friendship, things that transcend mere employment no matter how impressive the length of that tenure might be.

Combined, aunties Patty and Barbara Silva have worked at Pukalani Superette for 110 years.

“The years just flew by. We’ve known each other forever,” said Patty. “ We kind of knew everybody who came in the store.”

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Barbara, produce and packing room manager,  is the youngest 86-year-old you will ever find.

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Patty, manicured and well-coiffed and never late-  but now subject to back pain, remains a witty, kind and excellent storyteller.

The two worked side-by-side as cashiers, the only cashiers all those years ago.

“Back then it was all ladies,” Barbara recalled. “Sue (Sumiko Nakashima store founder along with her husband Moriaki “Aki“ Nakashima) was an awesome boss. She was always good to us. We all had young children back then and Sue would say, ”if you need time off, take it.’“

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Both women worked hard and long hours, sometimes 10 to 12 hours a day with a few hours on Sunday as well.

Patty used to like to go out on Saturday nights but was always there to answer the bell on Sunday.

“We did everything, always keeping busy. Including mopping the floors,” Barbara added.

“We were young and strong then,” Patty, 77, said.

The two have worked for four generations of the family-owned Pukalani Superette which has been at its current location since 1955.

Both went to St. Anthony School and have a wealth of memories.

There were Christmas parties and picnics; a steady and less hurried clientele back at the beginning.

“Customers say to me, ‘you’ve been here so long, why don’t you own the store yet,’” Barbara said with a smile.

“We are old school, dedicated to our jobs. It was how we were raised.”

And Patty said with wonder, “think of all the money that went through our hands.”

In the course of more than a half century some odd things have happened. According to the aunties there were two burglary attempts, though neither was on shift at the time. There were the shoplifters and the difficult customers, some attributable to drug use.

But mostly it has been a river of memories.

“I miss the old timers. We’ve seen a lot of them pass on,” Patty said. She said one customer asked her to stay another 10 years.

Under Sue’s leadership it was a predominantly female workforce.

“We had to wear dresses and nylon hose,” Patty remembered.

In those earlier times in Pukalani everyone knew each other by passing by or waiting at the bus stop. 

Barbara and Patty remember a cavalcade of Upcountry notables, including a very young Alan Arakawa who would go on to become mayor of Maui.

When asked what she would do with her time once she retires, Patty joked, “find another job. No, I’ll be spending time with my husband Rob.”

“I met him here in the store. He bought a cake mix and I was being flirty so I said when you take the cake, bring me a piece. Later that day he did.”

About a week before Christmas, Barbara related something she heard on the radio. It was, if you could have anything for Christmas, what would it be?

“My husband passed away three years ago. It was a sad day. My Christmas wish would be to have my husband back but of course that’s impossible.”

The aunties have seen a lot. Clientele has changed and so have attitudes. The Pukalani of their youth has been transformed.

Both women expressed gratitude to the Nakashima family for paying them full wages for three months while they were out of work during the beginning of the pandemic. 

“It was scary, we were more at risk,” Patty said.

“It was the worst time but they were always there, if we ever needed anything,” Barbara said.

So, how do you replace 110 years of excellent employment and Patty, the patron saint of cashiers?

According to Pukalani Superette  president Megan Nakashima, you don’t.

“Straight up, we won’t be able to replace them. Their shoes are too big to fill,” Nakashima said.

She said the veteran employees are a beacon to the store and that it was difficult not having them around.

But when they returned from their COVID-19 enforced absences,“ it felt like everything was where it should be again.”

Nakashima  said, Aunty Patty is ‘THE’ cashier. 

“She’s trained generations of cashiers, including me. She remembers her customers and puts them at ease. I honestly don’t know how she does it, but every time you go through her line, she makes you feel like you’ve come home. I’ll probably always look for her at Register 3.”

Nakashima stressed the family importance of the employees.

“All of the aunties – Barbara, Patty, Irene, Kayoko (she retired in 2018), Charlotte – have been around since I was a kid. My dad was fortunate in that when he started working at the store, he was able to have this team (and Chris Borling) and all of the other aunties and uncles that I remember) with him as he developed as a manager. Now, I have the honor of celebrating their long tenure and figuring out how to express our gratitude for the work they’ve put in.”

Patty said what she will miss most is the camaraderie. “But I won’t miss getting up at 3:30 a.m.”

Barbara said she could not remember any arguments and discord in the 54 years the women have worked together.

“We were friends through thick and thin, me, Patty and Irene,” Barbara said. The trio used to exchange coffee mugs for Christmas till there were just too many to continue the ritual.

As for Barbara, she hopes to stay on for at least a while as long as she can work.

So, farewell Patty, a deserved legacy, a good friend and an aunty who won’t be forgotten.

“There will never be another Aunty Patty,” Nakashima said. 

“I’m looking for people to make their own mark at Puk Sup and grow with me, but there will never be another Aunty Patty. Consider it like my way of retiring a jersey number.”

Andy Gross
Andy Gross is an experienced journalist who has worked many places both abroad and in Hawaiʻi. He says he has never lost his curiosity, compassion or empathy for the people, the world and the conditions that surround him.
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