Come Along for the Ride
With general manager David Cianelli at the controls, Pearlridge Center is fast approaching its 50th year of serving as Hawai‘i’s gathering place.
When Pearlridge Center made its debut 50 years ago, it was hailed as the state’s largest indoor mall, a designation it holds to this day. Four years later in 1976, it marked another monumental milestone as home to Hawai‘i’s first monorail system that’s been part of the iconic shopping center’s image for decades. Though meant to serve a utilitarian purpose of transporting shoppers from one area of Pearlridge to the next, the only monorail on the island remains a beloved pastime for many young children.
“It has a great view of Pearl Harbor,” says general manager David Cianelli. “It’s unique and very fun, and I still get a kick out of watching the kids get on and ride it. They have big, happy, smiling faces; it’s such a cool thing for them.”
From the outside, this behemoth of a railway system stands as an icon of Pearlridge Center, but at the heart of what makes this one-of-a-kind mall truly special are the businesses that call it home.
A staff of 16 management employees led by Cianelli keeps the 60-acre shopping mall at 98-1005 Moanalua Road operational and thriving, all while making sure its approximately 240 vendors have everything they need to succeed.
“There’s so much to do here besides just shopping. We have great local and national retailers, plenty of places to eat, and we also have a Satellite City Hall, health care (Pali Momi), grocery shopping at Down to Earth.
There’s a wide variety of things, and I really believe Pearlridge is the hub of the community,” notes Cianelli, who’s particularly excited about the coming of Japanese restaurant Sakura, which will open in the former 7,500-square-foot Monterey Bay Canners space next summer.
Part of having such a wide family of businesses is Pearlridge’s commitment to entrepreneurs and it serves as an incubator for local retailers who want to start a company. This business model gives individuals a low-priced option to try their new venture and see if it makes sense for the market, and it benefits Pearlridge by expanding the variety of its tenants — many of which you can’t find anywhere else in the state. In fact, several current Pearlridge mainstays first got their start as a pop-up or kiosk, including Manaola, HomeGrown and Sweet Treats by Kris.
“We love those stories and love working with entrepreneurs,” Cianelli says. “It really is a collaborative effort.”
And while new businesses are blooming throughout the year, there are a handful of businesses that have been around for decades, including a couple that have called Pearlridge home for as long as the center has been around.
Anna Miller’s Restaurant is one of the original tenants, and is the chain of eateries only location left in the world. “We enjoy the neighborhood family feeling of Pearlridge,” says Wade Hashizume, area manager of Anna Miller’s and Bravo Restaurant (the latter of which opened four decades ago at the mall). “Pearlridge puts customers first.”
Another longtime business is Diamond Co., which credits its longevity to the people who live, work and play in surrounding communities.
“It caters to locals, which helps us establish long-lasting relationships with our customers,” says owner Mark Sage.
That sense of community — with its tenants and the public at large — is something Pearlridge has always embraced.
This fixture in the ‘Aiea neighborhood has come a long way since its Uptown and Downtown phases were built, having undergone a revamp that was completed in 2019. The multimillion-dollar renovation not only gave the decades-old mall a facelift, but also included design elements — including the name changes — that reflected the area’s history. Much of the credit goes to consulting firm DTL, which did a lot of the historical and cultural research on the Kalauao ahupua‘a.
“A lot of people in the community, the town elders, spoke to us and said that they felt like we did a really good job, that we did it right,” recalls Cianelli. “That’s been one of the priorities, to stay connected to the community.”
An extension of putting people first can be seen in Pearlridge’s free weekly event offerings that cater to a variety of hobbyists from card collectors to art enthusiasts to those looking to help. It makes Pearlridge more than just a shopping and dining
destination, and gives families a place to spend time together doing something fun, interesting and educational — and usually all three. (See a complete listing of August’s happenings on this page.)
From Pearlridge’s ‘ohana of retailers, restaurants and services, to all the good it does for its patrons, Cianelli has gained and learned so much since joining the team nearly five years ago. And now, he’s excited to celebrate the mall’s 50th anniversary with the public and invites one and all to attend Pearl-ridge’s Aug. 19 celebration, adding that the admiration he has for all Pearlridge has done will continue to grow as the center embarks on its next 50 years.
“I could go on and on about how much I love this place,” he shares.
Party With These Partners
Pearlridge Center celebrates five decades of service in Hawai‘i with a concert featuring Crossing Rain from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 19 at Wai Makai’s second level. The local boy band will perform for shoppers and will be on-hand for a brief meet-and-greet until 8 p.m. (Also performing is DJ Anit from noon to 2 p.m. at Wai Makai Center Court.)
And, in true Pearlridge Center fashion, there’s free food for the community, too. L1 Iniki Popcorn has whipped up a custom flavor blend specifically for the shopping mall’s anniversary, and it’ll be available during mall hours while supplies last at Wai Makai Center Court.
Pearlridge Center’s August Schedule of Events
Monarchs & More: An Interactive Butterfly Exhibit
Learn about monarch butterflies during a self-guided tour through a garden exhibit.
11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 14 at Wai Makai Center Court
Cost is $6.25 per person; keiki age 2 and under are free with paying adult; discounts available for military members
Open-air Farmers Market
Find nearly 50 vendors selling fruits, produce, ready-made goods and plants.
7:30 a.m.-noon Aug. 6, 13, 20 and 27 at the Mauka Mezzanine (upper level parking deck near Macy’s)
Sportscards and Collectibles Show
Traders and enthusiasts will showcase their graded cards, comics, autographed memorabilia and more.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 13-14 at Wai Makai, second level
Island Craft Fairs
More than 80 vendors sell everything from gifts and jewelry to apparel and snacks.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 20-21 at Mauka, first level
Kumu hula Shelsea Lilia Ai and Halau Lilia Makanoe perform for shoppers.
1:30-2 p.m. Aug. 6, 13, 20 and 27 at Wai Makai Center Court
Comic Jam Hawai‘i
Watch — or join in — as local creatives share their sketches, illustrations and cartoons.
1-4 p.m. Aug. 7 and 21 at Wai Makai Center Court