BY GLORIA GARVEY – Yesterday I posted an ironic blog about the Kailua Neighborhood Board’s resolution to ask the HTA not to promote Kailua as a visitor destination alternative to the more “lively Waikiki” (from HTA’s website.)
Predictably, one of the posted comments accuses me of owning a visitor business (I don’t; but visitors like the business that I am part owner of) and of not reading the resolution (I did).
There is, I guess, a small problem in owning a business in Kailua and also enjoying the practice of writing the odd opinion piece. One does not, in my opinion, preclude the other.
The real irony here is that the business which I am part owner of was in fact started to serve local people. There were very few visitors in Kailua when we opened the store, and we opened it in order to be part of the redevelopment of Kailua, as opposed to standing on the outside and criticizing it. Having skin in the game.
Our thought was to help make sure that Kailua had a preponderance of local businesses, versus nationals, and that it would evolve to serve the local populous without mimicking so many “gentrified” small towns on the mainland.
Our business is a local business. We make our products here in Hawai`i. We employ people from Hawai’i. We help kids with their college educations. We pay well, and we pay for health insurance for people who do not have insurance already. Banks would not lend us money; the debt, which we still have eight years later, is our own.
We live in Kailua, we volunteer in Kailua, we support Kailua schools and Kailua charities (like the Boys and Girls Club). My business partner almost single-handedly (for three years running)made sure that thousands of Kailuans (and out of towners) could enjoy the 4th of July fireworks — a 65 year tradition that had been abandoned by the Kailua Chamber of Commerce.
If I sound defensive, I am. No one likes to be misunderstood. To the people who think we see only $$ signs, I would say that I would be glad to see more $$ signs so we could pay off our debt.
We love owning a store in Kailua. We see our friends. We don’t have to drive to town. We shop locally, supporting our fellow merchants pretty much exclusively.
The health and well being of Kailua’s small businesses has benefited enormously from the visitors who come here. They are important to keeping stores like ours open, and also stores like Bookends, Lanikai Juice, Kailua Nails, Mary Z’s and even Whole Foods. There are a whole slew of restaurants that wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the visitors PLUS locals mix that is Kailua today.
Before Kaneohe Ranch began to redevelop their (lion’s) share of Kailua, most of the small businesses here today could not survive. One example: My business partner and I helped Lanikai Juice (for instance), which was struggling— in return for juice coupons. We brought them 20+ years of branding expertise and helped them build the Fresh.Pure.Hawaiian. image they have today. We helped make it possible for them to stave off the newly arrived competition from the mainland, Jamba Juice.
The local Kailua businesses pay rent to a landlord which supports Kailua, its schools, its Boys and Girls club, its halaus and its sports teams through a foundation like no other small town in Hawai`i has. The benefit of having a single commercial landlord is that the town was redeveloped with a big picture in mind ( like it or not). This big picture view gave us new cross streets, more stores and more restaurants. The money, unlike so many other places, stays in Kailua — at least the greater part of it does– and much of it goes back into the community.
The same people who think that any small business that benefits from the visitor industry was created for the visitor industry aver that the price of housing in Kailua is high because of the visitors. This is simply not true. The cost of housing in Kailua is high because it is a desirable place to live, and because all housing in Hawai`i is expensive. And because it is (for the very most part) built out. There is a fixed pie.
For those who say they are worried that our cultural institutions are hurt by visitors? We now have many occasions on which local halau perform — occasions that weren’t there before. We who live here are interested in the preservation of the marsh, the endangered species, the heiau. The tourists who visit are respectful of them.
It ain’t perfect by a long shot but then nothing is. Hawai`i –for better, I think — is a visitor destination. That means people come to see and enjoy its beauty and many here profess a desire to share our Aloha. That means we have to take care of the land (we should do better than we do) and the sea and air around us. That means that our local cultures can be celebrated, seen and understood.
Some have said that tourism is a healing business. Hawai`i is a place where people come to recover themselves, to relax and to heal. And that is a noble purpose. We share our aloha with others and they take it home — small gestures of peace from human to human contact, carried back to places faraway.
We are lucky Hawai`i is a visitor destination. We must share our roads and beaches, stores and restaurants with strangers. But then we get to live and work here. How lucky we are.