The United States’ westernmost bookstore celebrates 20 years of business on Kaua‘i’s west side
February 4, 2024, 1:00 AM HST
Twenty years ago, Ed Justus stood on the Hanapēpē Swinging Bridge on the west side of Kaua‘i, searching for an answer.
The fledgling business owner, very nearly broke, was faced with a difficult decision: He could only afford to pay rent on his apartment or his month-old store – not both.
“Do I close the business? Or do I continue the business and sleep in the van?” Justus asked himself.
As Justus pondered his predicament, something beautiful appeared in the sky above him: A double rainbow. He took it as a sign and decided to sleep in the van.
His bold choice, made in the fall of 2004, paid off. The business – Talk Story Bookstore – is now renowned as the United States’ westernmost bookshop, beloved by locals and tourists alike. (It’s also the only bookshop left on Kaua‘i: The island’s other booksellers, most notably Borders in Līhuʻe, all closed by the early 2010s.)
“I’m extremely grateful that we’re here 20 years later,” Justus said last week, as he and his wife Yuriko Justus opened a box of new anniversary merchandise behind their store’s cash register.
To celebrate, Talk Story Bookstore will hold monthly prize giveaways on Instagram throughout 2024. An in-person celebration will take place sometime in November, although details are yet to be determined, according to Ed Justus.
Much has changed since Ed Justus first opened Talk Story in what is now the Anahola Granola building in Hanapēpē. There, he created a curiosity shop and internet café packed with books and other inventory initially intended for sale on eBay.
“I used to go around to garage sales, pick things up and sell them online to pay the rent and bills,” Ed Justus, who arrived on Kaua‘i as an 18-year-old from Virginia in 2002, explained.
In 2006, Talk Story moved up the street to its current location at 3785 Hanapēpē Road, right in the heart of “Kaua‘i’s Biggest Little Town.” There, Ed Justus ditched the café concept and focused on selling books, making Talk Story what it is today: A treasure trove of 25,000 new and used books and other goods, nearly all of which are brought in by islanders in exchange for store credit.
This system has resulted in some rare and exciting finds. Ed Justus remembers receiving a first edition copy of Jack London’s 1910 short story collection “Lost Face.” The book was autographed not once, but twice, by its legendary author. On another occasion, he received a massive early 20th-century tome entitled, “The Law of Cadavers.”
While the Justuses busied themselves up front, the Jensen family of Salt Lake City sat in the rear of the children’s section, flipping through picture books.
“This was a hidden gem. We came to see the [nearby] Lilo and Stitch mural, and then we stumbled onto this and our kids love books,” said mom Andrea Jensen. “There’s a good variety.”
There’s more variety than ever before, according to Ed Justus.
“We have a lot more new books, we have a lot more vinyl records, we have a lot more video games, we have a lot more comic books. We also have a much more organized and diversified selection of books of all types,” he said. “We’ve also expanded into art merchandise and things that my wife makes, like the Mochi-Celeste stickers, which are one of our hottest items.”
Yuriko Justus, a lifelong amateur artist, was encouraged by her husband to make her passion a profession several years ago.
“My profession was always finance … without him, I wouldn’t have stepped into this career,” she said.
Yuriko has since produced a wide variety of artwork for sale throughout the Hawaiian Islands – including tote bags, postcards, prints, picture books and the aforementioned stickers, which are inspired by Talk Story’s first “Cat Boss,” Celeste.
Celeste – who died in 2022 at the age of 19 – was Talk Story’s mascot and overlord, ruling the bookstore from a wicker basket perched behind its cash register. A placard on her basket – now inhabited by her successor Natalie – reads “I am ‘The Boss.’ All proceeds go to me.”
Celeste achieved internet fame on multiple occasions. Her obituary claims she was interviewed on national television shows and social media streams; trended on Reddit and Instagram with pictures garnering 100s of thousands of likes; and gained over 3,000 followers on her Instagram account now featuring Natalie. If all that wasn’t enough for a cat born as the runt of her litter, Celeste was also named among the “Top 10 Bookstore Cats in the World” by Mental Floss.
Kapa‘a resident June Moore has been a part-time employee of Talk Story for the past 10 years.
“It’s my happy place. I just love it here. It’s fun and funky,” she said. “The inventory is amazing and very interesting. I get to talk to people about books all day – it’s wonderful.”
As the name of the store would imply, conversation is really what it’s all about, according to the Justuses. Pointing to the “fun and funky” decorations referenced by Moore – which include a backdoor painted like Dr. Who’s TARDIS, a flux capacitor from “Back to the Future” and life-size mock-ups of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” robots – the couple explained their decor is intended to facilitate community.
“Everything on the walls is there to encourage visitors to talk story among themselves,” Yuriko Justus said.
Talk Story Bookstore is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and until 8 p.m. on Fridays. For more information about the bookshop, visit its website here. You can also follow the business on Facebook and Instagram.