By Pam Woolway
Sometimes walking down an alley is a good thing.
Smack dab amidst the bustle and traffic of historic Old Kapa‘a Town is a haven promising respite with a creative twist. Turn into the sunny corridor where the Dalai Lama’s words greet the adventurous: “Be kind whenever possible.”
Kiko Simple Goods opened in November 2014 and is the relative new kid on the block, in the company of cornerstone businesses like Vicky’s Fabrics two doors north, Pono Market a short stroll south and Jim Saylor’s Jewelry on the alley corner. Look for the red doors a few paces beyond swinging wood gates.
“We’re not a boutique. We’re not an art gallery and we’re not a gift store,” said Natasha Biggart, Kiko’s co-owner.
Descriptives fail this soft-spoken young woman. She hesitates, then continues, “Kiko is just a fun shop. We wanted to sell things we loved and see if it worked.”
The converted barn-style building with an open ceiling and vintage teak Balinese furniture is brimful of sculpture, textiles, books, sunglasses, jewelry, baby clothes, art supplies, and the list goes on.
Kiko is the offspring of a friendship born in Guam in 1976.
Forty-year Kaua‘i resident Micki Evslin met her future business partner, Vicky Fennell, when she and her husband Bill moved to Guam for his first pediatrician position in the 1970s.
“We were fast friends,” recalled Fennell, who had gone there on vacation, then remained to attend the University of Guam. “We knew we both love to shop and we have the very same taste.”
It would be decades before they’d inhabit the same island again. Then in 2014 Evslin called Fennel to announce, “It’s now or never, it’s time to open our shop.”
“I told Vicky, if it doesn’t work we’ll never do it again,” she said.
But Evslin was confident it would work because of her track record collaborating with Fennell.
“One time we remodeled a house together and it wound up on a Conde Nast ten favorite vacation rentals list,” Evslin said.
Neither had run a retail business before and this is where Fennell’s daughter, Biggart, brought her expertise. She joined the women as a third business partner, and together the three gutted the barn that had been used as a storage space by jeweler Jim Saylor, the building’s owner.
“Jim built our gates,” Evslin said. “And the red entrance doors were ones originally for a house (Bill and I) planned to build.”
Much of what gives the shop its charm is the antique furniture and vintage collections Evslin and Fennell tucked away over the years.
“Sometimes we disappoint customers when they can’t buy the props,” said Evslin laughing.
Fortunately, the eclectic mix of world goods and local art keeps customers returning. Kaua‘i art include Roshayn Ehringer’s felted sea creatures, driftwood sculpture by Fanny Bilodeau, wood works of Amy Nelson, handmade lauhala hats by Sally Jo Manea, and books by local authors Pam Brown, Jason Blake and John Wehrheim.
Wanderers at heart, all the owners shop for Kiko when they’re abroad. Biggart’s recent trip to Europe garnered Marrakech rugs, handbags and jewelry. Evslin treasure hunts mostly on trips to Mexico.
While the shopping expeditions are a fun part of running the indescribable store, all the women agree their favorite part is the people.
“You meet people from all over the world,” Fennell said. “The best part for me is the people. I just want this to be a positive experience for anyone who comes through the door. I’ve had other businesses, and this one is definitely the most fun.”