Best Buy faces hurdles in 'Aiea
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Central O'ahu Writer
Already plagued with traffic woes, 'Aiea residents may face additional congestion if Best Buy moves into its neighborhood in the next few years as planned.
That stretch of Kamehameha Highway is a trouble spot for traffic, as residents use Kanuku and Hekaha streets as arteries into upper Waimalu and Royal Summit and Ka'ahumanu Street into Waiau and 'Aiea.
"The roads going into that area are already inadequate to deal with the traffic coming from the community," said Rep. K. Mark Takai, D-34th (Pearl City, Newtown, Royal Summit). "Adding a store like Best Buy will create some major challenges in the area of traffic."
But traffic isn't the only concern. Residents are questioning everything from the aesthetics of Best Buy's buildings to the overdevelopment of Kamehameha Highway, throwing potential new roadblocks before a company that has been struggling to crack the Hawai'i market.
If rezoning permits are approved, Best Buy is expected to build a roughly 50,000-square-foot store on a nearly 4-acre site just blocks from its closest competitor, Circuit City, at Pearlridge Center. It would be Best Buy's first retail store in the state.
Though the company hasn't yet settled its lease, "we are definitely committed to bringing a store to Hawai'i," said Best Buy spokeswoman Jenny Bohuslavsky.
She couldn't project how long it would take the company to build its store in Waimalu, but Best Buy representatives told the 'Aiea Neighborhood Board in November that it may be a few years before it can open for business.
"I can tell you that we're opening 40 locations in the next year, and we haven't announced Hawai'i yet," Bohuslavsky said.
The Minneapolis-based chain originally planned to lease two acres in the Home Depot parking lot on Kamehameha Highway in Manana for a 45,000-square-foot store that was to open this year. But that deal fell through.
Best Buy Co. reported a record $4.24 billion in December sales, an increase of 10 percent over the previous year's period.
Holiday shopping helped. But so did the addition of 76 more Best Buy stores last year, increasing its retail selling space to 24.2 million square feet in the United States alone.
Kamehameha Highway from Acacia Road to Kaonohi Street is lined for miles with car dealerships, restaurants and strip malls, and residents don't like what they see.
"The community had made a preference that there should be a view to the ocean rather than to continue to put in commercial establishments," said Bill Clark, chairman of the 'Aiea Neighborhood Board.
Best Buy stores have a brand look: a boxy structure with a large, yellow price tag for a store sign that reads "Best Buy" in bold, black letters.
Some critics argue that the structure will not be aesthetically pleasing from the highway or from the walking trail that runs along the shoreline behind the lot.
"More than it's just not appropriate for the area, it's just bad use of space," said Robyn Blanpied of the 'Aiea/Pearl City Vision Group. "It's a 60-foot blank facade."
Blanpied, who is working on developing the Pearl Harbor Historical Trail that runs along the shoreline makai of Kamehameha Highway, said megastores such as Best Buy are not what the area needs. She argues that the company should allow smaller businesses to operate on its property, in particular shorefront retail shops and small restaurants that could cater to the foot- and bike-traffic expected to use the trail.
"Small business could use that traffic and make their money there," Blanpied said. "You'd generate more tax revenue, more jobs and be more sustainable."
Takai, who has supported beautification projects for Kamehameha Highway, said Best Buy may disrupt plans to improve the trail and highway.
"It's going to look terrible because the frontage of the store will be up against the highway and the back side of the building will face the bike path," Takai said. "The goal is to open up the area to make the waterfront visible from Kamehameha Highway, and this will just squeeze both sides."
Residents see the need for economic development in 'Aiea, but some wonder if Best Buy is the kind of retailer they want in their back yard.
"We certainly don't want to turn our back on any kind of business interested and willing to come into our community," said longtime 'Aiea resident Claire Tamamoto, head of the 'Aiea Community Association. "We're just questioning the location of it."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.