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

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