By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
It’s not exactly the Mall of America, and you wouldn’t mistake it for Hilo’s Prince Kuhio Plaza.
Yet a “mall” is about to open in downtown Honokaa.
Antiques and second-hand goods store owner Vera Paiva has knocked a doorway through the wall of her shop, “Vera’s Treasures,” to the retail space next door, where she’ll manage up to eight more vendors of antiques, arts and crafts.
Voila! “Vera’s Treasures — and Mall.”
Maybe the mall part’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it’s another welcome addition to the growing number of businesses beginning to fill the once numerous empty storefronts in Honokaa.
Paiva herself has only been in business since January. The retired library technician started collecting antiques and quality castoffs at yard sales in early January, then opened her store in downtown Honokaa before the month was over. Since then, business has been pleasantly better than expected, she said.
It was Paiva’s idea to rent the space next door, connect it to hers, and put up to eight different vendors in.
Elisa Hewetson of Ookala is looking forward to running her first retail shop in the “mall.” She and her husband Bill have been buying, restoring and selling antiques for years. “We collect things, antiquey, collectible, cool stuff,” Bill Hewetson said, but the couple has never had a store. “It gives us a chance to put our toe in the pond,” Elisa said.
It’s also a social outlet for Paiva, who worked for 30 years at the Honokaa Library. Paiva retired at 59, but she recoiled at the thought of staying home at that age.
“Ridiculous,” she said. “You have to do something to keep the brain going.”
Elisa Hewetson knew Paiva from the library when her children were young and learning to read. “People come in here who I knew when they were babies,” Paiva said. As if on cue, Elaine Nishibun of Chicago walked in.
“Vera, I didn’t know you had a store,” Nishibun said. The two were childhood friends and grew up together in Honokaa before Nishibun moved to the Mainland. Quickly they were catching up on family news and and talking about old times.
“It’s a great place to meet people,” said Paiva.
In less than a year, Paiva has seen new businesses filling in the empty spaces that were there when she started. Opening in the past few months have been a loan store, candy shop, an all-Hawaii crafts store, flower shop, glass art gallery, smoke shop, fudge and ice cream store. Lack of parking is a problem, she said, as is the lack of public restrooms, but tourists are returning.
“Tourists come,” especially for lunch, she said, “but we’re not a destination.” More than half her business is still local.
Paiva scours the weekend yard sales and moving sales to stock her shelves. “She takes some items on consignment, but prefers to sell her own things, the things she likes.
At the far end of the Mamane Street business district, which is not far in Honokaa town, would-be rival Grace Walker of Honokaa Trading Co. has been selling antiques on consignment for 26 years. But the amiable “Aunty Grace” sees only positives in the expanding business prospects for downtown Honokaa, where her warehouse-sized space features consignment items from the plantation era, “rustic, humbling, stuff like grandma had in the attic.”
Overall, “it’s getting a little better,” she said. “More tourists? Yeah, in Honolulu. But out here, we’re on our own.”
Like Vera’s, and most of Honokaa, Walker’s store is as much about socializing as it is about business. People drop in constantly with a smile and a greeting, sharing produce, news and conversation. “It’s not a biz, it’s like a social place,” Walker said.
Walker also said the 2009 Japanese film “Honokaa Boy,” shot on location in Honokaa, spurred a tremendous amount of business for her store that is still arriving via vans full of Japanese fans of the film. “It’s had a major impact on Honokaa and the Big Island,” she said.
Walker also noted the increase in businesses opening along the street with optimism. Over the years he’s seen many of them come and go. “Hopefully we’ll be there a little longer.”
Paiva plans a soft opening for the mall this Saturday and will schedule a more formal celebration later, “when we get our head back on straight,” she said. She’ll start advertising in 2013 to bring in more of what she calls “local tourists” from Oahu and other neighbor islands.
With signs of an economy ready to rebound, “Business should be bouncing up,” Paiva said. “We’re trying.”
Email Hunter Bishop at email@example.com.