Anyone who steps through the door at 8136 Firestone Blvd. is likely going to be met with the same greeting.
Exotical Hawaiian Apparel has operated in Downey since 1964; that adds up to nearly 54 years in business and a lot of Hawaiian shirts.
Inside the store are hundreds of brightly colored Polynesian style shirts, dresses, and other apparel, most of which authentic and brought to the store from Hawaii itself.
Exotical Hawaiian is a family operation, currently run day-to-day by 27-year-old Jon Orloff and his wife; It is owned by Orloff’s father, however.
“My wife and I run the day-to-day type stuff, but my father comes in, usually in the morning, and makes sure everything gets taken care of and whatnot,” said Orloff. “It’s a family business; we all kind of run it together.”
Originally, the business started when Orloff’s grandparents operated in imports / exports and rattan furniture before acquiring a neighboring business that dealt in Hawaiian merchandise.
“After some time, the shop next door…the woman wanted to retire, she sold all of her merchandise to my grandparents and they were selling rattan furniture, import / export, and Hawaiian clothes as well,” said Orloff. “That’s when we were at our biggest is when we expanded with everything.”
Eventually, Orloff’s grandfather became too old to haul the rattan furniture, and the import / export part of the business was also let go.
“It eventually just became a Hawaiian store,” said Orloff.
Orloff describes Exotical Hawaiian as “niche,” and credit’s its success to a wide range of clientele that come from a multitude of places.
“It’s not just Downey,” said Orloff. “People come from all over because we are one of the last bastions left in Southern California. We’re definitely one of the oldest.”
“We get all kinds of people. I’ve had billionaires come in here. I’ve had hippies come in for Burning Man. I’ve had bums come in here, and all of them want something different. I like to say if you don’t have everything you don’t have anything. So, we try to have everything for everyone because there are so many types of people that need all different types of things.”
Exotical Hawaiian has survived where others did not.
“We’ve outlived everyone else because the economy turned real rough in 2008, and a lot of niche, kind of unnecessary businesses – businesses that sell groceries or regular clothing that people wear every day, stuff like that – a lot of niche businesses went out of business simply because nobody had the extra funds to throw around at that kind of thing,” said Orloff. “Most of the Hawaiian businesses ran out of business in around 2008, 2009.”
What kept Hawaiian Exotical alive?
“My grandfather’s indomitable will,” said Orloff. “He liked this business and it was one of the things that really attached him and reminded him of his wife – my grandmother passed away in 2004 – so he was really holding on to this business and he didn’t want to let it go. Plus, he had nothing else that he wanted to do in his life; he was at the end of his years and so he threw his own personal assets and money back into the business to keep it afloat.”
After his grandfather’s passing, Orloff’s father officially took over. Orloff himself got involved around five years ago.
Orloff says that as Downey has changed and developed around the store, there hasn’t been much adaptation for the store itself; and there may not need to be much.
“I think the way that we run things and the way that we’ve done things is kind of evergreen,” said Orloff. “it’s not something that needs to adapt much as long as we keep on the straight and narrow of taking care of our customers, taking care of our business making sure it doesn’t fall apart, and just keeping on the straight and narrow with it.”