BY SAM SLOM – Not since the original “Save Our Star-Bulletin” effort more than a decade ago has there been such an immediate, passionate and widespread true residents’ movement to save a commercial enterprise as is the case with the Koko Marina Foodland Grocery store.

Since the terse announcement last week that the Foodland grocery store in Hawaii Kai, a key community enterprise for 47 years in the Koko Marina Shopping Center, had lost its lease and would be closing down July 10, residents sprang to immediate action. They called on local politicians, Foodland and the shopping center to do something to save Foodland.

In a battle of press releases, both the shopping center and the local grocery store blamed each other for the lease negotiation failure. It was announced that Walgreen’s drug store would occupy the space. This led the citizens’ cries that, “We don’t need band-aids; we need food!”

Some even talked about boycotting the new drug store or the shopping center itself. That reflects the shock, surprise and disappointment that accompanied the news of the sudden closure.

But residents decided to fight back. A petition drive started last Wednesday and so far has garnered several thousand signatures. People are talking and mobilizing. Area politicians responded and a public Town Hall meeting was quickly arranged for tomorrow, Tuesday, June 21, at the Kaiser High School from 7 p.m. to 8:30 pm. Spokespeople from Foodland, Koko Marina and Walgreen’s have been invited to speak.

At issue is more than just one grocery store. “Food security” has been brought up by several residents. From Waimanalo to Aina Haina, there are 7-11 stores, a Safeway in Hawaii Kai and the giant Costco (which requires a membership card). Times Supermarket left Niu Valley years ago. Choice is an issue. Local vs. Mainland, giant corporation vs. smaller, family owned business also plays a part. Older less mobile people and the disabled decry the potential loss of “their” community grocery store.

The issue of urban planning is also raised.

True these are private business decisions between a landlord and lessee. But there is more at stake here. The public has weighed in. This was not an issue created by politicians seeking face time or a wayward media with a distorted editorial viewpoint.

Is this a done deal?  Some believe so, but others will continue to give it their best effort.

It is a positive citizen-driven issue to witness, no matter how it plays out.

But to concerned volunteers like Laura Buck, Paige Altonn, Michael Scharzki, Randy and Jean Castello and members of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, it is more than just a contractual dispute.

State Representative Gene Ward and I have offered our offices to mediate, assist or discuss the community issue further with any party.

Business should be encouraged that consumers always react to good business practices and service. You can’t buy their loyalty; you have to earn it.

Let’s hope that there can be a beneficial win-win solution in this dispute and that Foodland in Hawaii Kai, provider to area residents and tourists alike can live long and prosper.

Hope to see you tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Kaiser High School cafeteria.

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