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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, October 26, 2002

Legions of shoppers pack Pearl Harbor's new mall

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Shoppers poured into the Mall at Pearl Harbor after yesterday's blessing.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Pearl Harbor was a popular place yesterday as military members, retirees and family members by the thousands swamped the Navy's new exchange and commissary.

"I think they're all here — every single person who is on the island who has an (military) ID card," said Paula Imamura, marketing manager for the Navy Exchange.

Parking for first-day shoppers at the world's largest Navy exchange and Hawai'i's largest commissary was troublesome during the "premiere opening" of the $54 million, 340,000-square-foot Mall at Pearl Harbor. Organizers plan to expand the few hundred parking spaces to 1,900, but must tear down the old stores first. Customers poured in anyway.

The commissary, exchange, Wyland art store, food court and various other shops and vendors —along with a showpiece entrance and rotunda decorated with a Wyland ceiling mural and a two-story waterfall —occupy just a little less space than Kahala Mall. Customers seemed to fill every inch.

"Everyone told me not to come, that it would be crazy here," said Air Force Capt. Jacqueline Bieker as she and Air Force Capt. Melinda Burkhart perused the Navy Exchange's jewelry selection — spread across a counter that snaked through floor space several times larger than some O'ahu apartments. "But somehow we managed to find a place to park. Oh, did you see the cute little whale earring?"

Shoppers in the women's clothing area approved of the expanded selection.

Gloria Agres, a military wife and Kalihi resident, gushed over the commissary's produce. "Everything I need is here, and it all looks so fresh!" she said.

Officials first estimated that the crowd count yesterday would exceed 30,000 people before the exchange closed at midnight. But by 2:30 yesterday, 15,000 people had already made purchases at the Navy Exchange. By 5 p.m., 2,075 commissary customers had passed through the cashiers.

Others just came to look, and probably plan to return over the weekend to stock up, said Nancy O'Nell, a Defense Commissary Agency spokeswoman.

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.