When the locally-owned Foodland grocery store announced it was being forced to close by July 10, 2011, because of a lease dispute, residents of Hawaii Kai and other surrounding communities were upset.

The normally quiet, middle class East Oahu community packed into a meeting that area legislators held so neighbors could vent their frustrations, get information, and get their message to the shopping center owners that they wanted a grocery store – not a Walgreens drug store planning to compete with the neighboring Longs Drugs.

More than 2,300 people from the close-knit community signed a petition in favor of Foodland remaining.

While two of the four partners who own the shopping center wanted Foodland to stay, Abraham Keh, who reportedly owns 75 percent of the Koko Marina Shopping Center, wanted to replace the local grocery store with a mainland chain.

The popular supermarket did close earlier this summer, despite petitions and protests and promises to picket ad ban the new store. Union officials have been standing outside the shopping center ever since, demanding Foodland be reopened.

Even if Walgreens did take the space, residents lobbied for Foodland to take a portion of the 33,000 square feet, which they heard might be leased to a national pet store chain.

But now it looks as thought the community lost round two of this fight.

Walgreens will sublease part of the space, not to a grocery store, but to a pet store.

PetCo, a national pet store, has applied for a permit with the City & County of Honolulu for this space, according to the Department of Planning and Permitting. PetCo already has a store in Kona on the island of Hawaii.

Local residents said the supermarket’s closure – and the shopping center’s refusal to open another – leaves them with just one supermarket, Safeway.

Though the closure just happened in recent months, they already say there appears to be less choice, higher prices, and longer lines in Safeway, the only other major grocery store in the area other than the membership-only Costco.

There also is concerns about access for elderly, and for management and food supply during a crisis, such as a tsunami or hurricane.

Bad feelings still remain in the community over the loss of their favorite grocery store.

That Foodland was opened by the company founder, Maurice Sullivan, almost 50 years ago. “Sully”, as he was called fondly, is deceased, but the company is run by his daughter, Jenai Sullivan Wall. The company has done a great deal for the community. Wall said Foodland wanted to stay but their bid was not accepted.

There was some dispute over what happened in private lease negotiations. The shopping center management company, which did not send a representative to the meeting held by Sen. Sam Slom and Rep. Gene Ward, first claimed in the media that Foodland walked away from negotiations.

Wall said Foodland did no such thing and talked about its offer to invest $3 million in store renovations and its competitive bid to keep the space.

At the time, Wall said she hoped Walgreens would let them take a portion of the space.

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Hawaii Reporter is an award-winning, independent Hawaii-based news and opinion journal founded in 2001 and launched in February 2002. The journal's staff have won a number of top awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including the top investigative news reporting awards, business reporting awards, government reporting awards, and online news reporting awards. Hawaii Reporter has a weekly television news show, News Behind the News, which airs on Mondays at 1:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.