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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
The Slipper House, one of the few remaining original tenants at Ala Moana Center, will close at the end of May and the store's owner is going to great lengths to find jobs for his 19 employees.
The store has been a fixture at Ala Moana Center since the day the mall opened 54 years ago.
In late November, mall management General Growth Properties notified the store's owner, Glenn Uejio, that it was terminating his lease at the end of May, Uejio said.
"It was a shock, and then a little sadness," Uejio said. "But I felt that what we wanted to do was make sure that we alleviated the fear and as much of the sadness of my 19 staffers. That was the first mission."
Uejio learned the slipper business from his late father, Kiyoto, who founded the store in 1952 at a house across from the old Sears store on Young Street. A newspaper photo from Ala Moana's opening day in 1959 showed 12-year-old Glenn, who was the store's stock boy, tying slippers together.
Ueijio, now 65, said the store will not reopen at another location. He plans to retire after working 12 hour days, seven days a week for decades.
Slipper House sales associate Lydia Alegado has been with the store for six years.
"I think I was going to retire over here, but so sad it's closed, but I'm trying to get another job. And Glenn will help us," Alegado said.
Evelyn Valdez, a manager and 16-year employee, said, "I learned a lot from this store. But I feel so sad that we're going to be closed. I love this store. He treated us like a family. Whenever we have a problem, he always there beside us to teach or tell us what we going to do."
Uejio met with executives of 13 Hawaii companies hoping to find new jobs for his 19 employees and said he's close to securing new work for all 12 of his full-timers.
"I went to a doctor's office and two of the people will be getting offers for jobs over there. Others were in other sectors like retail, or food service, or the hotel industry, airline industry, health care," Uejio said.
He told his employees about the store's closing on Sunday, after he'd spent several months to find many of them jobs.
He also has offered to drive his employees to job interviews, speak personally to the people doing the hiring and write specific job recommendations for each position they're applying for.
"They're like my family. If you're my son, I'd do it for you. If you're like my son, I'd do it for you. It's just the right thing to do," Uejio said.
In something virtually unheard of in the world of retail stores, customers sometimes give Slipper House employees tips, including small amounts of cash, even jewelry and food.
"It's unreal, I think, for retail, for someone to give a tip and I think it's reflective of their attitude and how they handle their customers," Uejio said.
Employees gather occasionally to sing the store's alma mater, set to the tune of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the lyrics of which are printed on the wall above the main check out station.
"Slipper House was born in '52, this I'm proud to tell you so," the staff sang Wednesday. "We were founded with this vision by a man named Kiyoto. From a small room in a house our store on Young Street grew each day. To this extremely busy store we now can proudly say,'"Hooray!'"
Uejio is a musician who earned undergraduate and master's degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. A clarinetist, he previously performed with the Honolulu Symphony and taught music and band at Oahu high schools. His wife Connie is a harpist with the Honolulu Symphony who teaches harp lessons and also plays the organ at Central Union Church.
Uejio said he will give each employee what he calls "mahalo bonuses," payments based on their years of service and responsibilities once The Slipper House closes at the end of May.
Then he plans a big party for his staff, sending them around the island on a trolley while he cooks them steaks, for a final send off.
"We are fine. And the future looks bright. We have hope because I think all of us have worked so well together and we have prepared and helped each other," Uejio said.