When Gum Cabug first spotted an abandoned building in Hawaiian Gardens 24 years ago, she peered into the keyhole hoping to get a better look inside. To her delight, she was given the chance to check out the building. The seller, according to Cabug, warned her not to get her hopes up as the building was seemingly dilapidated and had its windows boarded up.
The moment the doors opened, Gum, a nickname given to her over fifty years ago, explained that the space was magical.
In March 1997, Gum’s Mall of Antiques and Collectibles opened.
According to Cabug, the building was designed and built by an Imagineer with the Walt Disney Co. to educate people about the rainforest, complete with flora, nature landscapes, waterfalls, animals and a rain machine. Cabug told the seller that she would keep all of what he built and work the vision for her store around it.
“It just blows your mind,” Cabug said.
She said that she wanted the store to be more of an experience for guests unlike big-box retailers, keeping the animals and nature landscapes.
“I want [customers] to appreciate the history of the items and just enjoy the day out and not necessarily buy,” Cabug said. “Of course, I would love sales, but like I say, things do sell themselves.”
With over 75 vendors, Gum’s Mall of Antiques and Collectibles contains an eclectic and nostalgic collection of goods as well as a black cat named Luna, a cockatoo named Lancelot and plenty of turtles.
Cabug said she wants each customer who walks into her store to feel a sense of awe, hoping the ambiance of the building transports them into a kind of “wonderland.”
She sees her operation as a way to cherish history, but along with that, she explained that shopping at her business also promotes sustainability and supports the entrepreneurial spirit of the vendors.
And if there is one thing Cabug’s former career with an airline taught her, it’s customer service.
“I really, really want people to know that when they come in here they feel like, ‘Hey, it’s a family,’ even though they’re shopping,” Cabug said. “I try to remember every customer’s name.”
Instead of trying to “push items on customers,” Cabug encourages her customers to explore and have fun. She also hopes to add a coffee shop later this year to offer her customers another way to sit back and relax.
“We want customers to feel that warm welcome like the old-fashioned brick-and-mortar, mom-and-pop shops,” Cabug said, acknowledging the importance of community.
According to Cabug, the reality of handling her store amid the coronavirus pandemic was “stressful at first,” but she emphasized that was no longer the case since her team decided it was best to look forward and not stress over things they could not control.
She also said that if her customers feel comfortable coming in, then she feels comfortable serving them. Gum’s Mall of Antiques and Collectibles also has an Instagram, which helps customers get a feel of the store and what treasures they can find before arriving.
Still, Cabug reminds customers to be safe and consider safety precautions. The building itself is large, allowing customers to stroll around with enough space between them.
One positive outcome since the coronavirus pandemic has been that Cabug’s son and grandchildren are able to help her with store operations.
“One thing that I experienced the most working in the store is that something that might not seem valuable to others can be so valuable to someone else,” her son, Conan, said.
He also shared that he can now fully appreciate the significance of the items and customers because of his first-hand experience working alongside them.
And through all of this, Cabug looks ahead.
“I love what I do,” she said. “I want to keep going for another 24 years.”