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<b>The Waiting:</b> Ulua fishermen at dusk near South Point on the Big Island. <br>photo: Brad Goda
Vol. 13, no. 4
August/September 2010


Friendly Isle Pharmacy 
Story By: Shannon Wianecki
Photo By: PF Bentley

In 1935, Richard Sakata caught a pineapple barge to Moloka‘i and became the island’s first pharmacist. He settled in, married a Maui girl and started a business that has been taking the island’s pulse for eighty years and counting. Moloka‘i Drugs is Hawai‘i’s oldest independent family-owned pharmacy—a beloved institution that satisfies the community’s needs and wants.

“There aren’t too many places like this anymore,” says Kimberly Mikami Svetin, the president of Moloka‘i Drugs and one of Sakata’s granddaughters. “We’re like an old-fashioned general store. We gift wrap any gift, whether it’s a candy bar or something bigger.”

The Kaunakakai drugstore carries local necessities: watch batteries, nail polish, needles for stringing lei, waterproof bandages, red wallets for good luck in Las Vegas and—of course—an inventory of lifesaving medications. “Amazon and Walmart are our competitors for goods that can be mail ordered,” says Svetin. “But when you need medicine, you can’t wait a week for it.”

Svetin’s grandfather was the quintessential rural pharmacist. He counted pills by hand, made house calls and ran tabs for plantation workers. Svetin’s father stepped up as the second pharmacist in 1969, followed by her uncle and sister. The other employees might as well be family. Frank Maniago, for instance, has worked for Moloka‘i Drugs since his junior year in high school. He delivers medical equipment, such as hospital beds, sets it up for the customers and makes sure everything works before he leaves. “My father hired Frank in 1988, two days before Christmas Eve,” says Svetin. “He’s been with our store since then.”

The family’s generosity might have something to do with their success. They donated space for Moloka‘i’s first dialysis center so that patients would no longer have to fly off-island for treatment. They’ve never charged for use of the ballpark they own in the center of Kaunakakai, and last year they bought a new fourteen-seat school bus for Molokai High School.

In 1995, the family branched out, opening Kamoi Snack-n-Go, where kids line up for lilikoi or ube (purple sweet potato) ice cream served in freshly baked waffle cones. Judging by a recent Facebook post, the snack shop is just as attentive to Islanders’ needs as the pharmacy. “In anticipation of the hurricane season,” the post reads, “we ordered extra ice cream.”