An extant asset
Although I’ve lived, in total, around 8 years in Hawai’i, I’ve spent little time on the neighbor islands, or the main islands outside of O’ahu. In 1993 when I was going to school at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, some friends and I took a weekend trip to Hilo on the Big Island. But that was it. I had never stepped foot on any of the other Hawai’ian islands. With my recent resurgence in traveling, I’ve decided to remedy this. On my most recent trip, I took a side jaunt to Li’hue on Kauai and paid a visit to Kukui Grove. But a couple of years before that, I made what was my second trip to a neighbor island when I took a detour to Kahului on Maui on my way to Honolulu.
I landed in the shadow of Hale’akala on a beautiful spring day. Just like the Big Island, the pace of Maui is much different from O’ahu, home of Honolulu. I grew up in the tropics, so the ocean and year-round warm weather is no incentive for me to visit. I don’t go to Hawai’i to relax on the beach, but to explore the cities. That’s how I do all of my traveling, and there’s just not enough city to explore on Maui for me to want to spend more than a short time there. But of course, I did pay a visit to the island’s main shopping center, Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.
Queen Ka’ahumanu Center is an open-air shopping mall, much like Honolulu's Ala Moana Center, but is covered from the elements for the most part. Under the Teflon-coated fiberglass cover lay a nice mix of both local and nationally owned brands. At the time of my visit, it was anchored by Sears and two Macy’s outlets. But much like the rest of the chain, the Sears has since closed.
Queen Ka’ahumanu opened in 1974 close to the meeting point of Kahului and Wailuku. The one-level center debuted with Honolulu-based Liberty House as the anchor. Later, Liberty House was joined by Sears and JCPenney and a two-story wing was added, bringing the center’s square footage up to 571,000. JCPenney departed the islands completely in 2002 and Liberty House was eventually bought out by Macy’s, who then took over the old JCPenney space to double their footprint. As the main retail complex serving the entire island, it found success through the decades until fairly recently.
Owing to the covid pandemic and the precipitous drop in visitors and the island’s tourism based economy, Queen Ka’ahumanu has experienced disappointing financial results and now has a questionable future. The foreclosure process started in November 2020 with its finally being granted in June of the following year. Macy’s sales had fallen to $182.00 per square foot while Sears had plummeted to just $48.00 per square foot just before their closing. Junior anchor Forever 21 closed in 2020 and 46 of the mall’s 143 tenant spaces are vacant.
I’m really glad that I made a point to visit Queen Ka’ahumanu Center when I did as I just don’t think there’s any way for it to survive as it is. The permanent population of the island is just too small and spread out and Maui’s mega resorts now integrate retail offerings to the point where a trip to the local mall isn’t necessary for most lodgers. But I liked the place and hope it holds on. Unfortunately, I think I’ll be tagging this one as a dead mall sooner rather than later.