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Norm Winter’s “burn/return” offer:
When Jelly’s first opened in June 1983, comic books were 60 cents, Atari ruled the home videogame market, and the music industry still spun vinyl records. A quarter-century later, comics are $2.99 and up, Nintendo, Xbox and PlayStation rule the videogame market, and a key part of Jelly’s revenues is the renewed popularity of … vinyl records.
Inside a cramped storage room at Jelly’s Kakaako store, owner Norm Winter leans back on a sofa, adjusts his trademark beret and shakes his head. “This past year was hell,” he says wearily. “We were way behind with a lot of our bills. We were almost cut off from our suppliers. There were times when we wondered if we could even stay alive.”
Yet Jelly’s is alive, outlasting Tower Records, House of Music and other big competitors. The stores in Kakaako and Aiea still offer new and used music, books, comics, games, collectibles and other hard-to-find treasures.
“You got so many people operating chain-type stores. Jelly’s is kind of anti-chain,” Winter says. “You come to our store, and you can find great stuff and see different things every day. It’s kind of refreshing.”
Jelly’s was founded by Cindy Lau, whose nieces marveled at her round “jelly belly.” She opened the first store on Keeaumoku Street in Honolulu, across from Ala Moana Center. A few months later, Lau met Winter, a free spirit from California who had been living in a North Shore tree house. They married, and he began helping at the store.
Lau died in 2004. Winter, 67, now runs Jelly’s with daughter Chyann, son Michael and about 15 employees.
Other Jelly’s locations opened and closed over the years, including stores on Piikoi Street, in Pearl Kai Shopping Center and in Mililani. The 5,000-square-foot Aiea shop, located at the Harbor Center behind Cutter Ford, opened in 2001. The 7,000-square-foot Kakaako store opened in March 2008. “We always wanted to come back into town, but the rents were so high it was ridiculous,” Winter says. “This rent’s real nice, at $1.40 a square foot. We waited for our opportunity, and it came.”
Unfortunately, the Kakaako store opened at the start of a nationwide recession. Most part-time workers were laid off last year and the advertising budget was slashed. In January, the two stores combined for only $150,000 in sales. “We used to do that with just the Aiea store,” says Winter. Winter and his staff have taken steps to attract more customers.
“In retail, you want to break the ice,” Winter explains. “So outside [the Kakaako store] we have 25-cent LPs, 50-cent CDs and so forth. Sometimes I put out some pretty good stuff out there to spice up interest. When we can break the ice, it gets the customer in the mood to come in and look around some more.” Once shoppers are inside, Winter adds, the goal is to maximize their spending by offering bargains. For instance, if you buy four CDs or four books, you get another free. Buy seven CDs and the next three are free.
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