SWAM is so good it makes me want to shop at Waimalu Plaza

by Justin D'Olier on February 3, 2012 | Comments Off on SWAM is so good it makes me want to shop at Waimalu Plaza |

At a glance, there is nothing that would entice you to enter the magical wonderland of Waimalu Plaza. The shopping complex, tucked between Moanalua Road and Kamehameaha Highway in Aiea, is a nondescript series of uniform concrete buildings. It boasts a bizarre mix of retailers ranging from Pink Box, a seductively named Hello Kitty emporium, to the office of James K. Michishima, CPA. If an accountant’s office doesn’t scream “happening center of commerce”, I don’t know what does. Short of a spur of the moment Starbucks craving while shopping at Best Buy – Waimalu Plaza does boast the closest Starbucks to Best Buy. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Pearlridge Starbucks – nothing would make me enter what has to be the odds on favorite for World’s Most Generic Shopping Complex 2012.

Of course, that was before last Thursday. Before I learned of the glory that is SWAM.

SWAM, short for Shiroma’s Wines and More, is a tiny wine shop tucked into the general malaise of Waimalu Plaza. Aside from the noticeably polished sign, nothing about the entrance to the store or the yawn-inducing surroundings of the mall suggest a memorable shopping expereince. Then you enter… and everything changes.

Immediately upon entering, I was greeted by the owners, Jill and Mark. It was not a generic Welcome-to-Walmart-I’m-contractually-obligated-to-say-hi-to-you-but-in-actuality-I-think-you-smell-funny greeting. It was a I’m-obviously-and-sincerely-glad-you-walked-in-here-let’s-be-best-friends-would-you-like-to-share-my-chapstick hello, accompanied with a smile. I felt immediately at home.

The store is small, but surprisingly well-stocked. A main wine rack runs through the center of the store and the rest of the assortment of wine, beer, liquor, cigars, and other assorted alcohol-themed play things line shelves along the walls. A cigar case here, an assortment of hard liquor there. Is that a sake fridge in the corner? Hey look, a hand painted skull filled with tequila! The products are organized by type, making a circle of the store play out like a stroll through a booze-filled Epcot Center.

My focus on Thursday was a few nice bottles to add to my liquor collection, so I spent some time perusing SWAM’s impresssive assortment of liqour. To conserve space, the bottles are packed into a series of square cubby holes making the browsing experience more of a treasure hunt than window shopping. Each cubby has a theme, American Bourbon, High End Tequila, Irish Whiskey, and one that I can only assume is “stuff so bizarre it transcends taxonomy”. It takes a little searching to browse the selection, but Jill and Mark happily answered all of my questions and gave me free reign to rifle through the expansive assortment of intoxicants. I’m reseasonably sure they would have let me juggle the bottles if I had asked.

I ended my dipsomanical sojurn with a boutique new American gin, a bottle of amazing tequila, two aperitifs, two craft bitters, and a newfound love for all things SWAM.

You can buy alcohol anywhere. These days, even local grocery stores offer an admirable selection of great wine, craft beer, and spirits. What is increasingly more difficult to find is admirable customer service and quality recommendations. Even local wine stores, which should be a wealth of alcohol information, often have unreliable service and staffing. Shiroma’s Wines and More stands out like a beacon of gluggable glory for instilling an undeniable atmosphere of customer service into what could so easily be just another wine store. Clearly, SWAM takes the More in Shiroma’s Wines and More seriously, and so should you.

Here at Drink with Aloha we encourage you to find out what you like to drink. Trust your pallate. Find out the stories behind bottles and the faces behind labels. Treasure every drink and seek out those that help you transform alcohol from a product into an experience.

SWAM is one of those places and for that I am thankful. The mere fact that it makes me want to return to Waimalu Plaza tells you everything you need to know.

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