Redevelopment: local businesses shut for condos

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Siena Usui

The front entrance of Ohana Hale Marketplace, one of the business places scheduled to close for condo development.

By Siena Usui
Staff Writer

On their final opening day, things were rather quiet for the restaurants and businesses that once thrived on Ke’eaumoku Street between Liona and Rycroft.

Over a dozen of those businesses were forced to close on Jan. 31, with plans for two high rise twin towers to replace the buildings. A 12-story parking structure, half-acre park and shops will be coming along as well.

“I was so sad because one of my favorite Korean restaurants was right there and I was wondering where it was going to move,” senior Natsu Katayama said.

With rising amounts of residents and visitors thirsty to get both the city and island experience, areas across Hawaii are being reconstructed to cater to this growing demand.

“All these businesses are trying hard to get their products out there and succeed, and because of these developments and other things, it just doesn’t work out for them,” junior Reyn Matsuzaki said.

Matsuzaki has a part time job at Yoas, a sorbet and aquascapes business that his cousin and two business partners run together. It was located in Ohana Hale Marketplace but they decided to move after the announcement of closure on Mar. 31. Yoas are still currently operating out of OHM and have opened a new location at 2840 Kapiolani Boulevard.

“The OHM was really like a close knit community with all the different small businesses. Even the people that went to OHM as customers, they were close to at least 1-2 businesses,” Matsuzaki said.

The shutdown of those local businesses for redevelopment is nothing new in Hawaii. OHM, home to approximately 140 businesses, will be redeveloped into a luxury condo tower. Fortunately, there are plans for OHM to relocate to a currently undisclosed location in Kaka’ako.

“I think because of new developments, it might be harder to start businesses, but at the same time I think that [they] will also be able to excel and grow. With all these new developments in areas, more people will come and hopefully try to support these small businesses so that they can continue to exceed and expand,” Matsuzaki said.

Head chef at Hana Koa Brewing Company, a brewery that started right before the pandemic in 2019, Chris Wong, said that it’s disappointing to see all the big developments occurring in Hawaii.

“When you hear about more local businesses [besides the pandemic], mom and pop places getting shut up because of development, it never really settles well,” Wong said.

As a worker in the restaurant industry, Wong has had first-hand experience with seeing how COVID-19 has affected it, along with rising supply prices and other prominent factors as well.

Wong said that a challenge that local businesses face unique to Hawaii is how dependent the islands are on tourism.

“Because of the pandemic, we definitely lost and have not really regained the tourism that all businesses, especially restaurants depended on. A market that we were looking to tap into was Japanese tourism, and when the pandemic hit, that’s one big market that was lost and still has not returned,” Wong said.

According to Hawaii Life, the state’s luxury market saw a 234.5% increase over 2020 (by dollar value), with total sales in all luxury market segments above $3 million and reaching $3.698 billion.

However in Sep. 2020, Yelp reported that Hawaii was the state with the most businesses closed per 1,000 businesses, with 9.4 permanent closures and 13.4 temporary closures.

“It’s definitely more negative than positive [redevelopment]. It’s just hiking up the cost of living and almost all the aspects because these places are really expensive,” Wong said. “The only people that are going to come here are people that aren’t from here, that have that money and income to afford it. It really is only driving the local people out here more and not being able to afford to live here.”.

Kerry Kopp is the co-owner of Hana Koa Brewing Company and also co-owns another business that does employment services and other work.

“I see it as a mixture of both [negative and positive in regards to [redevelopment], but I do feel that we need more affordable rental units. I think that’s more of a pressing community need because it’s difficult to start out here and find an affordable rental unit that’s in line with your pay,” Kopp said.

Businesses in Hawaii face an uphill battle to succeed, but that is not stopping them from working towards their goals.

“A lot of people and places are going to find ways to be successful, they’re just going to have to be a little more creative. I worry a little bit, but I think it’ll be okay. I think enough people care,” Wong said.