Spotlight: “Puk Sup’s” Chris Borling Brings Wisdom, Kindness, and Years of Dedication to the Job
Not everyone with super powers shows up in a Marvel Comics Movie.
Sometime those gifts are more subtle and ever evolving and embody the true tenets of ʻohana and aloha in ways one could never imagine.
Like feeding a community, like passing on wisdom and kindness in a gentle way, and, like fixing plumbing when it breaks. They say no one is indispensable but Chris Borling comes close.
Borling, handsome, friendly and pushing 50, has been a mainstay of Pukalani Superette since 1988. He joined the store as an employee while still at Maui High School.
He started out working in the courtesy booth. Both his mother and older brother were store employees.
Borling is now the assistant manager of Pukalani Superette. His is a success story in many ways, but also an exemplar of what it means to be a good person, truly pono and industrious beyond cliche and lip service.
“Back then we used to close at 10 p.m. and it would be a school night,” Borling recalled sitting in his office on a busy Saturday. “So I would go home, do my homework and always looked forward to coming back to work. I loved it from the beginning. There were some hard times but I learned to live with it and always kept positive. If not, if you don’t stay positive, then it’s not pure.”
Back then he said he earned about $5 an hour.
Appreciative of his history with Pukalani Superette and the way he has been treated he said flatly, “I would do anything for the store. I’m here even when I’m not supposed to be.”
Now, about the plumbing.
Part of the story of Pukalani Superette could be summed up as “better call Chris.”
It is no exaggeration to say he has done everything at the store including cleaning whole fish to being a kitchen cook, and everything in between.
Much of his 33 years on the job has been a learning experience. “If something broke, plumbing, electric, it would be ‘call Chris, call Chris.’ It’s been a long journey and I’ve never stopped learning and always been growing, knowing how to do things better, wearing many hats.”
Borling, who grew up in Makawao, has always loved to fish. “I was born and raised to catch and cut fish.”
He remembered the old days when the store cut whole fish from local fishermen.
“I’d look it in the eyes to see if they were clear. Then I knew the fish was fresh.”
Count Pukalani Superette President Megan Nakashima as a big fan. “I grew up in the store, so Chris has been a part of my life since I can remember. I can’t imagine a store without him. He has many super powers. Even though he’s always smiling and joking around, he has a wealth of wisdom that any employee can learn from,” said Nakashima who is among those who formed Upcountry Strong , an initiative to help feed those who are food insecure in the era of COVID-19 and resulting economic issues.
“He can easily motivate and inspire others and isn’t scared to get dirty. He acts with aloha and is able to empathize with anyone and everyone. I’m so glad that he decided to work here in high school and stick it out with us this entire time. It’s been an honor to finally get to work alongside him,” said Nakashima.
According to Nakashima, Pukalani Superette has been in its current location since 1955. Before that it was known as the Tanizaki Store which was started in Pukalani in the 1920s. In chatting with Chris one is reminded of a Bob Marley lyric. “And everything I do, shall be upful and right.”
When asked if Borling would say he is among the prime reasons for the store’s ongoing success over the decades, she said he would likely deflect the question and talk about something else.
When he was told this, he smiled and said, “she knows me real well.” And Borling knows his customers equally as well.
He is unafraid to ask questions to find out what shoppers want, what produce and products they like the most.
“They come in and they can be themselves. Whether they are local or tourists. It’s ʻohana,” said Borling.
The store has changed over the years. Borling said one major adjustment has been the increase in the produce section and the bolstering of more healthy eating options and the slight reduction of high sodium canned goods.
“We try to educate and help customers make healthier selections. Our health foods department has grown.” So too has the store’s commitment to local farmers and other purveyors.
“We’ve really tried to keep prices down and help local farmers and ask the farmers to grow (items) for us,” he said.
No matter how positive one stays, no one has escaped COVID-19. Despite the pandemic and the restrictions of how many people could be in the store at any one time, many upcountry residents praised the near heroic efforts of the store and its personnel to stay open and provide stability during trying times.
The numbers of customers entering the store might have been down just a bit but sales remained strong.
Borling said customers appreciated that the store was transparent during the pandemic even when it had to close for a few days in order to deep clean and disinfect.
To this day, the store receives calls from upcountry residents who say things like, ‘if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t eat, we appreciate you guys being open. “We get random calls like that all the time,” said Borling.
He praised Nakashima for being incredibly generous and community minded when it came to making sure no one went hungry.
Commenting on the store’s diversity, including the employment of those with developmental disabilities, Borling said,
“Megan is awesome. She has a big heart.” Some heroes don’t always jump off the screen.
When asked if what the store does in terms of community was heroic, the modest Borling said, “we try to be.”
Sitting at a break table in the back of the store near the loading dock, store employees Val Akana and Emery Meyer had high praise for Borling. “Chis is the best, informative, helpful, one bundle of joy,” Akana said.
Meyer piped in, “he’s the best uncle we have.”
Ok, the uncle thing.
Pukalani Superette runs a radio advertisement touting Uncle Chris and everything he does at the store. Apparently everyone considers Chris their uncle, including guys 20 years older.
As with most things, he just smiled and said, “it’s all good. I know so many people and I think it’s all about respect.”
It’s not likely Borling will lose his job anytime soon. But when asked what his challenges for the future are, he said, “staying employed and praying. Hoping the sales numbers stay strong and that we can provide.”
Having been a teen employee himself Borling has always been supportive of young employees.
“Just happy giving them a start, showing them they can earn a paycheck and that they are welcome to come back on school breaks,” said Borling.
The store employs 77 people.
Since this is a story about family and generations, Borling said much of what he learned about the store came from its founders, Moriaki “Aki” and Sumiko “Sue” Nakashima.
Borling said, “They were super strict but they taught me well. If you’re going to do something, do it right. See it to completion.”