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The Mall For All

Among those who will be celebrating Windward Mall’s 35th anniversary are (from left) Wendy Kapeliela, cashier, Sears; Irene Ramirez, utility steward at The Gazebo, Macy’s; Eloise Holt, president, Maruki-Tei; Cesar Topacio, general manager, Windward Mall; and Robert Lawrence, owner, Ko‘olau Pets.

Thirty-five years after first opening its doors, Windward Mall remains the gathering place for O‘ahu shoppers.

When a new mall opens these days, the celebration usually consists of celebrities turning shovelfuls of dirt, entertainers offering top-flight musical performances and spectators witnessing glittery fireworks displays.

But such was not the case when Windward Mall, located in the heart of Kāne‘ohe, opened for business in 1982.

Back then, a single strand of multi-colored pennant flags adorned the front of the Sears store, while the closest thing to live celebrities were Lt. Gov. Jean King, Professor Fun and Rosko the Clown. Even advertisements announcing the mall’s grand opening were strangely grouped with Jordache jeans ads placed alongside newspaper articles that cited then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s warning of the dangers of decriminalizing marijuana.

Not the most stylish of beginnings.

But while the styles and mores may have changed since Windward Mall’s humble start, the pivotal role it has since played within the community has not, according to those who have been there from the beginning.

In September 1981, mall construction was well under way. PHOTOS COURTESY WINDWARD MALL

“Through the years, we witnessed the change of Kāne‘ohe town from a country town to a thriving city, and Windward Mall was a big part of this,” says Ko‘olau Pets owner Robert Lawrence. “No longer did people need to go over the mountain for special items. It was now all at the mall.”

Much has happened at the enclosed shopping center in its three-and-a-half decades of business. Only one of its three original anchor tenants, Sears, remains, and the mall had to undergo a $23 million renovation a decade ago to beautify its interior and create room for additional retailers. Still, the 530,000-square-foot mall — which sits upon land owned by Kamehameha Schools and is home to more than 100 stores, restaurants and services — continues to be a magnet for shoppers from all over the island.

“Windward Mall became a gathering place for the community,” notes Lawrence. “Special events and Friday-night concerts drew large crowds of people to the mall. The mall has allowed our business to grow tremendously, and even with big-box stores in Kāne‘ohe, we’ve been able to thrive.”

Lawrence and his business partner, Matt Furtado, took over ownership in June after Furtado’s parents, who originally opened the store, decided to step away. The men have been working at Ko‘olau Pets since opening day in ’82 and have witnessed generations of families purchase their pet supplies at their location.

A crowd gathers outside during the grand opening of Sears in July 1982. PHOTOS COURTESY WINDWARD MALL

“We became a popular attraction with a large selection of pets and a huge selection of products, but our star attraction was our pet spider monkey (JC), who entertained Windward Mall’s customers for years,” says Lawrence.

Sure, the glamour of Ala Moana Center and the freshness of Ka Makana Ali‘i often command headlines, but it can be argued that no shopping center is more important to its community than Windward Mall.

“It’s family-oriented,” explains Sears general manager Ed Souza of the mall atmosphere. “You have one-on-one attention (with customers). And you’re (not only) working on their business for that day, but for a lifetime.”

“Windward Mall is truly a wonderful gathering place for the community,” adds Maruki-Tei owner Eloise Holt, who owns the mall-based eatery with her husband, Stanley. “It embodies the family spirit of ‘ohana. We have been fortunate to serve generations of our Windward families over the past 35 years.”

In truth, the Japanese-food eatery has been serving the area for nearly 60 years, as her parents opened and operated the original Maruki-Tei on Kamehameha Highway. Her mother chose to retire after the building that housed the restaurant was demolished in 1980. But when the announcement came of the construction of an enclosed mall in Kāne‘ohe, Holt decided to take a chance and reopen the family business.

Having a local standard at the mall gave the shopping center some credibility with residents, as well as comfort with foods they knew from their youth and workers with whom they were familiar.

“I am most grateful and appreciative for being surrounded by wonderful employees that I have embraced as family,” says Holt. “I am most fond of seeing my former employees return … many of whom have families of their own now. One of my employees, Shirley Obatay, has been with me from the opening. She was actually employed by my mother at the original location when she was in her teens.”

Another of the original anchor tenants has morphed through the years, as Liberty House became Macy’s in 2001. But those who work for the department store understand the importance of the mall’s ties to the community.

“Windward Mall is the community gathering spot where family and friends meet to spend the day shopping, dining, catching a movie or just hanging out,” says Clinton Nakahara, Macy’s store manager. “The mall supports a local farmers market every Sunday and Wednesday, which also brings an increased traffic flow of customers.”

Leading the mall’s 35th anniversary celebration (see accompanying story) is general manager Cesar Topacio, who in his two years at the helm has seen the impact the center has in the community.

“What makes Windward Mall different is that we cater to the family, from the doting tūtū to their wonderful keiki,” says Topacio, who is a father of four himself with his college sweetheart Julienne Vinuya. “We have amenities and stores for all ages. Our new children’s play area, kids train and hale-hale horses attract not only families here on the Windward side, but also families from the Leeward side.

“I see friends who are from Kapolei, Waipahu, Mililani and Wahiawā who come here with their children to ride our train and play in our play area. We also have the only indoor farmers market in the island on Wednesdays and Sundays. All of these complement the total shopping experience as we continue to bring in new national and local retailers to meet the shopping needs of our trade area.”

But the role of the mall goes beyond the commerce, as they are involved in charities both for the people and the environment.

“We just hosted the first American Cancer Relay for Life in a mall on July 8, when we paid homage to 100 cancer survivors and treated them to a dinner at Macy’s Gazebo,” says Topacio. “This is in partnership with Ameri-

can Cancer Society and Macy’s. We were told that this was the very first time that this national event was held inside a mall.

“We also support nonprofit groups that hold events here to support the community. Since the owner of the mall, Kamehameha Schools, has a very strong presence on the Windward side of the island, we are cognizant of their mission and we strive to support their cause.

“There is also a partnership with Kamehameha Schools that allowed us to become the first mall in Hawai‘i to have three ‘rain gardens’ designed to reduce the amount of pollution entering streams and the ocean by intercepting stormwater. A project partnership between Hui O Ko‘olaupoko, a Kailua-based nonprofit watershed management group aimed at improving water quality, and Kamehameha Schools, which owns Windward Mall.”

Thirty-five years is a long time, but by investing in the families in their area, there is no end in sight for Windward Mall and its tenants.

“The future is bright as we gained momentum last year in bringing in popular national brands like Victoria’s Secret and PINK,” says Topacio. “This year we started with the opening of Buffalo Wild Wings, followed by Torrid and just recently The Face Shop, Pretzel Maker, La Tour CafĂ©, and Rix Island Wear. We are also close to finalizing a lease for a very popular national retailer to occupy the former Sports Authority space before the end of the year.

“I can’t help but say that we are not old — we’re vintage!”

A Big Deal, Celebration

This year, Windward Mall is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a slew of special events. On Saturday, July 29, for example, shoppers can enjoy performances by Hoku Zuttermeister, Ho‘okena and various hula halau. Customers also will enjoy special discounts and offers from retailers, restaurants and services.

In addition, shoppers can get in on the fun as part of the Windward Mall 35th Anniversary “Share A Memory” contest through July 27.

The shopping center will be giving away weekly prizes to those who post their favorite memory at Windward Mall — using Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Contestants can upload a favorite memory comment or photo, while using the hashtag #RememberWindwardMall, for a chance to win prizes and gift cards from mall merchants and restaurants.

Calendar of Events:

•Social Media 35 years Campaign, July 6-27 “Remember when. . .” contest on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter with weekly gift card drawings.

• 35th Anniversary Kick Off Concert, July 29 at 4 p.m. Festivities include Mayor’s Proclamation, and performances by Hoku Zuttermeister, and Ho‘okena with Ka Hula O Kealamailani. The event is hosted by Windward Mall, Hawaii Tourism Authority’s ‘Aha Mele — Hawaiian Music Series and Ohana Broadcast.

• 35th Anniversary Summer Celebration, Aug. 11-13 Gift-with-purchase promotion will include a 35th anniversary logo tote bag incentive, and a summer concert featuring Kapena Aug. 12.

• Aloha Festivals Event, Sept. 9 at 5 p.m. Aloha Festivals Concert featuring Keauhou and Hawaiian arts, crafts, music and dance.