It was 15 x 20 foot, at 1523 Alexander Street, just makai of Wilder; it was called Alexander Grocery – most called it the Chink Store – at least for me, without derogatory meaning, without thinking of the connotation of the name. It is simply what we called it. (Even the owner’s obituary also called it the same.)
About 100-youngsters were at its door before school in the mornings and between three to four hundred in the afternoon. It was the favorite of Punahou and Maryknoll students. It also served basic grocery needs of the surrounding neighborhood.
It was built by Ah Chong Liu in 1912; later, Albert and Esther Lau took it over. The Laus previously lived in Wahiawa, where Albert founded Albert’s Cleaners.
Esther, early on, also sold the World Book Encyclopedia door-to-door just to earn a set for her own family, and worked as an employee of the State Legislature when it was located at ʻIolani Palace.
The Laus leased and operated the store for 22-years. “It’s the relationship we’ve had with the children, without them and the store, we couldn’t have brought up our own children as well. We’ve learned as much from them as they’ve learned from us.” (Star-Advertiser Obituary)
“(C)hildren are my weakness,’ says Esther Lau, amazing memories not only for hundreds of names and faces but also for personalities, a real interest in all the youngsters”. (Advertiser, 1963)
The Laus had three children of their own, Linda, Michael and Richard. “Mr. Lau sent all his kids to college on profits from shave ice!” (Piper)
It was “one of my favorite places to walk from school in the 1960s & 70s. The Laus were always so friendly! I never dreamed they and their store wouldn’t be there someday, but I’m happy it afforded the Laus a good life and then some!” (Clark)
“The Laus truly loved that little store and their patrons, remembering numerous by name and countless more by face. A true ‘Mom & Pop store – I trust you, you trust me’ existence, good ol’ face-to-face communication with all, just a ‘plain vanilla’ work ethic which succeeded as they intended.” (Star-Advertiser Obituary)
“When the troops arrive they automatically form two lines … one leading to Mr Lau who presides over the shave ice machine, and another wends its way to Mrs Lau behind the candy, sushi and manapua counter.” (Advertiser, 1963)
“Three ground rules at the store are no smoking, no fighting and no profanity, and the Laus make this all stick by ‘keeping a strong eye on the kids, keeping our ears open,’ and asking offenders to leave.” (Advertiser, 1963)
“I’ve given more lectures in here. Sometimes when I hear the older ones talking about dropping out of school I tell them ‘You’re in a competitive world and it’s not easy.’ I see some of them who left school and I don’t think they are very happy.” (Esther Lau, Advertiser, 1963)
A news article upon the store’s closing in the mid-1970s states, “The Laus are a special kind of people they offered advice, philosophy, encouragement and help where needed, kept athletes on training diets, bucked up potential drop-outs …”
“… clamped down on fighting, profanity, smoking, and corrected sloppy English, a year-round lost and found department, (conveyed) messages between parents and children, made hundreds of small loans for phone calls, bus fares, and food.” (Star-Advertiser Obituary)
“‘If they yell “Hey!” we tell them we don’t ‘Hey!’ then either, and we never use pidgin English. If they say ‘da kine’ I say ‘Da kine! What are your getting in English, C?’” (Esther Lau, Advertiser, 1963)
“During the hours the store is bulging with the young and very young, out front there’s a collection of bicycles, book bags, violin cases, school folders and flight bags bulging with athletic equipment or ballet togs.”
“Then, when they’ve all gone home, the Laus pick up what’s been left behind … rain coats, bands for teeth, glasses, bathing suits, umbrellas, bags and books”. (Advertiser, 1963)
“But no spot would have been so anticipated to visit if it had not been manned by Mr and Mrs Lau. Not only were they both kind and friendly to me, I often thought how pretty Mrs Lau was and wondered why she wasn’t a model or something!” (Denison)
“We’ve learned as much from them as they’ve learned from us. We’re really going to miss this.” (Esther Lau speaking of the store’s closing; Star-Advertiser Obituary) There are a lot of former Punahou and Marynoll students that miss them, too.
Albert died in 1997; Esther died in 2014. They had multiple grandchildren, great grandchildren – and a whole lot of others who became better people due to their attention to and care for others. (Esther Lau’s obituary noted ‘Alexander Grocery’ the way we did, ‘The Chink Store.’)