While many longtime local family businesses are closing or downsizing because of the weak economy, competition from national chain stores or a lack of interest by the next generation to carry the torch, the Marrs family business, Marmac Ace Hardware, is thriving and expanding.
The family will open another store sometime next year.
The new 12,000-square-foot, two-story hardware store is expected to be completed in the next eight to nine months in the Maui Lani Village Center, said Marmac Ace Hardware owner Bill Marrs.
David Marrs (left), who manages Marmac Ace Hardware in Kahului, talks with store customer service representative Chris Lawrence on Friday afternoon in Kahului.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"I'm very excited. It's giving me my second wind," said the 75-year-old Marrs, who began the hardware business 41 years ago in Kahului.
"They call us the dying breed," he said. "We are the last of the family businesses."
The Marrs family, friends and business associates will hold a private blessing for the new store Wednesday.
The hardware store will join other businesses in the Maui Lani Village Center, including Walgreens, 76 Gas, Menehune Water, Oceanic Time Warner Cable, Wailuku Federal Credit Union and Retina Institute of Hawaii, according to information from Maui Lani Development.
They will keep their old 9,000-square-foot store on Alamaha Street, which is known for its free popcorn and coffee and as a place to find those hard-to-find household parts, Marrs said.
Marrs joked that he'll be "the guy handing out popcorn" at the new store.
The free coffee and popcorn are some of the personal touches the store offers. Its employees deliver one-on-one customer service and explain to people how to fix things, Marrs said.
"I tell people we sell hardware, but we are in the people business. It's all about people," he said.
Marrs cited that special customer service touch in explaining how and why the business has weathered the influx of big-box stores, such as Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse and Home Depot, and the economic downturn that hit about four years ago.
Competition. No problem, Marrs said.
"I love it. It keeps us on our toes," he said.
Marrs said that he has no hard feelings against the big boxes, who refer their customers to him when the larger stores don't have something in stock or when they need some advice to fix their problem.
Unlike those big boxes though, "our money stays on Maui," he said.
Marmac Ace gives back to the Maui community as well. The store sponsors Little League teams and other activities to keep children away from drugs and out of trouble.
His business also employs local families. The Alamaha Street store has 27 full-time and part-time employees.
Marrs' son, David, manages the store and his daughter, Lauri Lawrence, is the office manager. Bill Marrs' wife, Maureen, runs the home and kitchen store.
She used to run Maureen's Gifts & Christmas, a store that had Christmas trees and ornaments from the floor to the ceiling until it closed several years ago.
As a business cooperative, the Marrs family owns its own stores while carrying the Ace name and products. The new store's shelves will have all the things the Alamaha Street store has and more, but it will not have a special home and kitchen store.
The Maui Lani store will bring employment to Maui.
Twenty four more employees will be needed to staff the new store, Marrs said. He also expects to employ 60 to 70 construction workers to build the store through his contractor, Mark Beauchamp.
"I think we are going to do something good," Marrs said of the new store and its ability to serve the Wailuku-Maui Lani area.
There's a need for a hardware store near Wailuku, he said. It will be in a place where new houses are being built and adjacent to new subdivisions.
"We need more people to take a risk like we are doing, put people back to work. They don't need to be an old fart . . . like me," Marrs said with laugh.
"We need the County of Maui to step up and not only hold (us) back but embrace us and encourage the next guys along and help them get the permits and keep them working," he said.
With 22 grandchildren, some in college, Marrs said the new store will be for them.
"This is a nice family business. You don't get rich, but you work seven days a week.
. . . Maybe we can leave a legacy to the next generation," he said.
Marrs said that he started to look at having a new store in Maui Lani in 2005 or 2006. When the economy started to slump in 2008, he didn't change his mind.
"I've always been an optimist," he explained. "I thought we would bounce back. There's not a sure fit. There's no guarantees. I just see the wonderful opportunity. I would be a fool not to take advantage of that."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.