HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
Warming the Big Island for 30 Years
“You’ve got a fireplace? In Hawaii?” People might be incredulous, but think about it. Very few houses here have insulation in their walls; none, certainly, have a boiler or any source of heat beyond sunlight through the windows – and those are generally single-pane windows, not the heat-retaining double-glazed kind. But even here, where there is no snow and ice, there is great joy to be found in just sitting around a fire . . . it strikes a chord deep in the human psyche.
Fireplaces here in Hawaii have been Jeffrey Mermel’s business since 1979, when he bought two wood stoves, put one in his house, and sold the other. His shop is called the Fireplace & Home Center; but for Jeffrey, the word “fireplace” is a relative term. It means not only a built-in or freestanding stove, but a “fire feature” for the home, that burns LP gas or (the newest thing) bio-ethanol, which needs neither a gas line nor a chimney. There are even electric fireplaces! “Well . . .” he admits, “an electric fireplace is really a piece of furniture that displays an image of a fire.”
His shop also offers grills, both gas and charcoal, from small portable units to big outdoor-kitchen size. He has pizza ovens that come as a kit, with firebricks placed on a Styrofoam mold. (One customer in Kohala mounted the oven on a trailer, as a snack wagon, to make pizzas along the roadside.) Jeffrey’s wood stoves are popular all over the island, but especially in the higher elevations, like Waimea and Volcano, where winter temperatures can fall into the 40s or even the 30s. (No insulation, remember?) And he also represents a line of saunas, from Finland, that use infrared heat, for “all of the health benefits of a traditional sauna, but at lower temperatures.”
Jeffrey came to Hilo in 1976 from San Francisco, where he had been a photographer. Here he met and married Sally, who owned a gift shop on Keawe St. “I married a retailer,” he says, “and became one myself.” (By the way, Sally also liked fresh-brewed coffee, but couldn’t find a decent cup near her store; so she started Bear’s, which is still in the coffee business there on Keawe St.) But Sally didn’t give up working when she married Jeffrey. They moved both of their enterprises together, twenty years ago, into the split halves of a single storefront on Kamehameha Ave. in downtown Hilo.
Sally’s half is called The Most Irresistible Shop in Hilo. And what is so “irresistible” about it? A variety of merchandise that can realistically claim to offer something for everyone: jewelry, toys, books, shirts, decorative art, hats, souvenirs, lamps, Christmas gifts, tea and saki sets, kitchenware, pareus (sarongs), tee shirts, scarves, postcards, purses, spices, sauces, candies, and locally-made soaps. “She’s got ‘the eye’ for things!” Jeffrey says proudly.
Jeffrey sells his “fire features” statewide. So, you may be wondering (as I did): How many fireplaces are there, here in Hawaii? “Enough,” says Jeffrey with a smile, “to put our two kids through college!”
[Me (on the right) with my friends Jeffrey and Sally Mermel, in front of their store on Kam Avenue in Hilo.]
… and these two businesses are now for sale! Both adjacent businesses are being sold together. This is a rare opportunity to step into a business venture with a long and positive track record. Jeffrey and Sally have done the hard work building a solid positive reputation for both businesses, and they are also willing to train Buyers during the transition period.
To see all the details and virtual tour, click here: