24 September 2023

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. 

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