Story by Catherine Cluett
Photo by Richard Cooke
Swiveling salon chairs and hunting supplies? Welcome to Shop 2 & Beauty Salon tucked behind Kaunakakai’s main street, where one of the state’s most respected gunsmiths shares space with his wife’s beauty salon. Mel Chung trades, sells and refinishes guns and does barrel, sight and stock work. Much of his business, though, comes from restoring historic firearms. “Sometimes it’s more expensive than buying a new gun,” he says, “but it’s the sentimental value that often brings people in.”
Chung is the third generation of his Chinese family to live on Moloka‘i. By the time he was 15 he was repairing guns for family and friends out of his father’s butcher shop and taking payment in the form of fish and venison. In 1982 he opened Shop 2 —so named, he explains, because the gun shop and beauty salon combo means that both men and women can shop. He services firearms from throughout Hawai‘i, the Pacific region and even the Mainland, and his business thrives through word of mouth. “I always fix someone’s gun like it’s my own,” he says. Chung has traveled all over the Mainland to train in gun repair with twelve different manufacturers, and he holds many certification firsts in the state.
With rifles lining a wall on one side of the shop and hair accessories shelved on the other, the unusual pairing at Shop 2 matter-of-factly breaks down stereotypes — and so does Chung’s wife. “It’s not just men who come into the gun shop,” laughs Mrs. Chung, who holds her own gun repair certifications. “Many women on Moloka‘i have better aim than the men.”
Running his fingers over a smooth walnut barrel or worn metal stock, Chung can tell a firearm’s history by deciphering its pockmarks and engravings. His collection includes guns from around the world, many of which he has polished, carved and machined to their original condition. But utility is at the core of Chung’s business: Shop 2 perpetuates a subsistence lifestyle on Moloka‘i, an island that relies heavily on hunting to stock the dinner table—and on Chung to keep its guns in working order.