24 September 2023

International Marketplace, Honolulu, HI

 An extant asset

The original marketplace. (Source)

After a long hiatus, I started visiting Hawai’i annually again in 2017.  On my first visit, I noticed something unexpected from my hotel room window on Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki.  I was staring at a rather large Saks Fifth Avenue store just across the street.  And it was connected to an open-air shopping mall.  These were large surprises as I had no idea that either had existed in the tourist hub.

1 & 2- The front of International Marketplace on Kalakaua.  3- The Macy's next door.  4- The Saks entrance in the mall.

As a kid growing up on O’ahu, we never really ventured to Waikiki that often.  There were beaches located much closer to our home on the island’s leeward side that were just as picturesque but much less crowded.  On the rare occasion that we would find ourselves there, it was for some specific event or another which never afforded me with much of a chance to explore.

International Marketplace mallmanac ca 2017.  See the full PDF version here.

Having a complex and colorful history, I had heard of the International Marketplace before and maybe even visited it once or twice.  But the International Marketplace I was familiar with was much different.  It was more akin to an actual, well, marketplace.  It was like a farmers market meets a flea market aimed at the visitors.

The inside of International Marketplace.

But what was across the street was a modern, triple tiered upscale shopping mall with store brands rivaling those located at Ala Moana Center.  On my first visit, I was surrounded with retail names such as Burberry, Anthropologie, Michael Kors and Free People.  There were no longer humble booths with locals selling their wares to overenthusiastic tourists.  Though a fan of shopping malls, all of these changes left me kind of bummed.

International Marketplace mallmanac ca 2019.  See the full PDF version here.

Preserved with International Marketplace’s complete rebuilding was the famed banyan tree located toward the mall’s southwestern end.  American explorer Donn Beach leased the land on which International Marketplace sits in the 1950s from the Queen Emma Foundation.  He opened the market in 1956 with his offices located in a tree house built into the large banyan tree which still serves as the focal point of the open-air center.

The lush greenery in the mall.

In the following years, an eclectic mix of merchants joined Don, adding more dining and retail options to what was quickly becoming a popular tourist destination.  There were themed villages in the tradition of Korea, Japan, China and the South Seas among the attractions with legendary entertainment spots such as The Dagger Bar and Duke Kahanamoku’s Nightclub finding nearby homes.

International Marketplace mallmanac ca 2021.  See the full PDF version here.

Don Beach passed away in 1989 and, unfortunately, International Marketplace was far past its glory years.  Having seen a complete turnover of tenants, it fell into major disrepair over the subsequent decades.  In 2013, all of the extant buildings in which the complex was comprised were leveled in order to build the new and upscale version of International Marketplace that exists today.

Scenes in and around the famed banyan tree, including the tree house.

The modern incarnation of International Marketplace opened in 2016 and includes 90 stores spread out over three levels with 345,000 square feet of gross leasable area.  Though well-known watering holes like Maui Brewing Co and Herringbone bring in great crowds today, it all just seems a bit too refined with none of the local charm or divey-ness of their predecessors.  But, obviously, that’s no longer the market they are targeting.

Saks Fifth Avenue, the only location in the islands, shut its doors during the summer of 2022.  In its 80,000 square foot place a Target is being built.  Though the mid-market retailer will be a welcome addition, giving some competition to the 8,000 ABC Store locations, I still do miss what International Marketplace was, even though I’m still not sure that I ever saw it firsthand. 

International Marketplace official website

Prince Kuhio Plaza, Hilo, HI

 Am extant asset

Hilo, the largest city on the island of Hawai’i, isn’t well visited by tourists.  Located on the windward (eastern) side of the largest isle in the chain, it receives far too much rain to be anywhere near as popular as a destination as Kailua-Kona on the Big Island’s much sunnier west coast.  For this reason, I’ve always loved Hilo more than any other place outside of O’ahu.  It just feels so Hawai’i.

Scenes around the town of Hilo, including Mauna Kea.

In the shadow of Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest mountain from its base to its summit, Prince Kuhio Plaza is the only fully enclosed shopping center both on the island and in the entirety of the state outside of O’ahu.  Unfortunately, on my last trip in 2022, it looked like that may not be the case for much longer.  Man, I hope I’m wrong.

Prince Kuhio Plaza lease plan ca 2001.  See the full PDF version here.

Single story, lowly slung and not flashy at all, Prince Kuhio Plaza makes its home to the south of the city’s airport and downtown.  With the Sears spot having recently been vacated, Macy’s remains as the lone traditional anchor, though with two locations including a men’s store.  Another anchor spot is subdivided between a Petco and TJMaxx.

1- Petco and a mall entrance.  2- Macy's.  3- The vacated Sears store.  4- Macy's.  5- Old Navy and another Sears entrance.  6- The Macy's men's, children and home store.

The exterior looked as though it had not received a refurbishment within recent memory, with plenty of dark glass elements, layered canopies and boxy porticos highlighting the building’s architecture.  The interior showed off more recent design elements, though it too looked as though a redesign was in order.

Prince Kuhio Plaza lease plan ca 2011.  See the full PDF version here.

In addition to the anchors, there was a small food court with just two of the five counters occupied.  The area was joined by a local favorite, Zippy’s Restaurant.  Really, if you ever have travel to the islands, at least one visit to Zippy’s is a must.  Try one of their plate lunches.  Their broasted chicken is so ono.

A mall entrance and the interior of Prince Kuhio Plaza.

Though many of the storefronts were darkened during my visit, Prince Kuhio Plaza still boasts representatives of normal shopping mall fare such as Hot Topic, Zumiez and Spencer Gifts.  There is also the Prince Kuhio Megaplex Cinema, one of the few multiple screen cineplexes on the eastern side of the Big Island.

The main corridor.

Named after Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, Prince Kuhio Plaza opened in 1985 on the northeast side of the major crossing of Mamalahoa Highway and Pūʻāinakō Street.  Originally anchored by Honolulu based Liberty House, JCPenney and Sears, the mall was built on land leased by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.

Prince Kuhio Plaza lease plan ca 2021.  See the full PDF version here.

Macy’s took over Liberty House’s space when they bought out the locally owned department store in 2001, then the JCPenney location when they left the islands in 2003.  Old Navy was added in 2015 before Sears, the sole remaining original anchor, announced their departure in 2021.  The store had only been closed for a year by the time of my visit.

1- The former Sears mall entrance.  2- IHOP in a mall.  3 & 4- Zippy's and the food court.

It’s difficult to say which direction Prince Kuhio Plaza is going.  Though there are plenty of big mall brands doing rather well, the number of vacancies is concerning.  The mall is definitely in need of some TLC, but with most of the island’s money coming from the much brighter shores of the island’s leeward side, well, I’m just glad I finally got to see the place when I did.