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Ward Warehouse bids doleful aloha

It’s lasted 42 years, but on Monday the “temporary” life for an urban Honolulu shopping complex that has long been a magnet for local retailers and consumers will end.

Ward Warehouse is closing at Ward Village in Kakaako, ending an extended run as a retail center that was originally projected to last 15 years.

On Friday, Kakaako resident Virginia Lee Costa came around to say goodbye to many of the merchants who remain.

“It’s sad this place is closing,” she said while visiting the owners of Novel T World. “They should have left this place alone. It’s so irking.”

Shelly Andrin, area manager for swimwear retailer Loco Boutique, has been seeing visitors like Costa all week, including one man who she said popped in on Friday to bid farewell to the boutique that has been at Ward Warehouse for 20 years.

“He was one of our best patrons,” Andrin said. “He was very sad. It’s so sad. It’s a lot of good memories. This is a place that the local people came. Ward Warehouse was where local people and local merchants could afford it.”

Howard Hughes Corp., owner of the 60-acre Ward Village area that includes Ward Warehouse, announced the closing timetable in February so the company can begin construction on a condominium tower called Gateway Cylinder where unit prices are projected to range from $1.5 million to $23 million.

The Texas-based developer has already finished one condo tower and is actively building three more as part of a master plan for 16 towers and 1 million square feet of retail. Three towers are planned for the Ward Warehouse site that will also include a public recreation space with a waterway running between two towers.

Todd Apo, Hughes Corp. vice president of community development, said it is an exciting time for the company to continue creating a modern mix of high-rise homes and retail, and he thanked the Ward Warehouse merchants for the services they have provided to the community.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” he said. “Ward Warehouse has been such a great place for all of us.”

Ward Warehouse opened in 1975 and was built with an exposed frame of large wooden beams bolted together. It was designed and developed by former property owner Victoria Ward Ltd. as a “temporary” structure expected to stay up about 15 years.

Now only about two-thirds of the roughly 50 tenants remain, and have one final weekend for business. Many of the stores have merchandise marked down anywhere from 20 percent to 90 percent as some businesses close for good, some move inventory to other existing stores and some prepare to relocate to new spaces including elsewhere at Ward Village.

Melanie Iris, store manager at apparel shop Local Fever, was busy Friday, moving merchandise from display racks into plastic bins headed for other Local Fever locations as customers trickled in and out. “It’s been slow,” she said of business lately.

Matt Love, a Hawaiian musician performing outside the Na Mea Hawai‘i indigenous crafts store, lamented the ongoing transformation of the area into what he sees as a neighborhood of high-end restaurants and retailers catering to rich residents in place of departed or soon-to-depart Ward Warehouse tenants such as Kincaid’s, Old Spaghetti Factory, Waiola Shave Ice, Japanese bookstore Hakubundo, Himalayan handicraft store Ocean Queen and Island Soap and Candle Works.

“People are going to miss this,” he said, noting that Na Mea is fortunate to be relocating to Ward Centre in October. But he isn’t sure how soon that will be. Hughes Corp. envisions redeveloping Ward Centre in 2026-27 with more towers.

To celebrate the end of Ward Warehouse, Na Mea’s owner, Maile Meyer, has organized a closing party for Sunday. The event, with potluck food, live music, dancing and improv comedy, is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m., an hour before stores close, and run till 9 p.m. at the Ewa end of the complex.

Darrell Ching, co-owner of T-shirt shop Novel T World, said it was nice that Meyer put the event together and that he looks forward to reminiscing. “We’re going to see all our old neighbors — the ones who are still here,” he said.

Meyer said people need a chance to say goodbye and offer gratitude for the things they love. “Kind of a last-hurrah community gathering,” she said. “Here we are at the end of this line.”

Photo courtesy of Bruce Asato Star Advertiser

Photo courtesy of Bruce Asato Star Advertiser

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