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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:20 a.m., Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Wal-Mart finally opens its doors

 •  Map (opens in new window): Traffic flow around superblock

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

A stream of shoppers washed into a sea of blue-jacketed Wal-Mart employees today as the world's largest retailer opened its first urban store on O'ahu on the Ke'eaumoku superblock in Honolulu.

Shoppers flowed into the doors of the Ke'eaumoku Wal-Mart this morning. Although the store opened at 9 a.m., many had been waiting as early as 4:30 a.m. for the long-awaited opening of the discount retailer.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

About 100 shoppers milled outside the 150,000-square-foot store an hour before the 9 a.m. opening, which drew young and old largely from the area between Kapahulu and Kalihi.

"This is the cheapest store," said Poly Trajano, a Kalihi resident who showed up with $300 in his pocket at 4:30 a.m. because someone told him the store opened at that time.

Unintentionally, Trajano was first in line, but he didn't mind waiting 4 1/2 hours to spend his money on food, a car battery and some other items. "I will come to this store all the time," he said.

Ella Samuel and friend Lui Falenofafoa walked to the store several miles from Waikamilo Street in Kapalama.

"It's part of our exercise," said Samuel, 52. "We knew on the first opening day traffic is heavy and parking is hard, so we walked. We just came to browse."

Traffic was not a hassle, and Wal-Mart kept closed one of its four entrances, the primary one on Ke'eaumoku Street, to keep traffic moving on the main thoroughfare.

The second customer in line was Jadeen Malama, a neighbor living on Makaloa Street next to the store who said she got up early and arrived at 5:15 a.m. because she thought there would be prizes for the first 200 people in the door.

Wal-Mart offered no prizes, special sale items or gimmicks. No matter. Malama was happy to shop for Christmas presents, an air conditioner, laundry items, clothing and food.

"I feel good because it's close to where I stay rather than going to (Wal-Mart stores in) Waipahu or Mililani.

Betty Jo Sellers, left, and Kilita Petelo price movies at Wal-Mart's Ke'eaumoku store yesterday. Unlike other Hawai'i Wal-Mart stores, it will offer wide-screen plasma and LCD TVs, as well as more Asian foods.

Photos by Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Craig Tengan, left, and Kamuela Kaaikala stock shelves with candy at Hawai'i's newest Wal-Mart yesterday. Unlike other Wal-Mart stores that are open 24 hours, the Ke'eaumoku store's hours are 6 a.m. to midnight.
While shoppers like Malama waited outside, Wal-Mart employees Kristi Moe and Chiyo Smith memorialized the event by taking their own picture together with Smith's digital camera. "We just want to remember it all because it's so exciting," Moe said.

Just inside the doors next to stacks of 20-pound bags of Shirakiku-brand rice, store manager Walter Lott led an employee rally and blessing ceremony before welcoming in the customers.

"Good morning," he said to a couple hundred associates dressed in Wal-Mart's signature blue jackets.

"Good morning, Walter," the crowd responded, followed by two coordinated stomps on the floor and a "Teamwork!" shout in unison.

After a round of thanks, a prayer and the untying of a maile lei, shoppers were welcomed in to employee applause.

Edward Ho, a retiree from Kapahulu, said he drove to the store just to look around. He ate some cake put out by Paul Lin, an optometrist operating the in-store vision center. "It's good," Ho said of the cake, adding that he will regularly shop at the store because Wal-Mart's Mililani and Kunia stores are "too far."

Philip Kuala, a Kapahulu resident who caught the bus to Wal-Mart, was the store's second customer. He spent $4 on four Halloween candy baskets. "I wanted to go to the first grand opening," he said. "I'm so happy they made Wal-Mart so convenient for everybody in town."

Not all the preparations to open the store were pulled off smoothly. An ice machine that bags its own ice had technical difficulties. Construction wasn't finished on the in-store L&L Drive-Inn, which planned to serve up pupu-style samples just for today, then open in the next few weeks.

Outside, about 25 protesters peacefully displayed signs expressing their frustration over how Wal-Mart handled the discovery of human bones during store construction.

"Bury Iwi" read one sign. "Built on Graves" said another.

The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. recently complained that the iwi, or bones, should have been reburied before the store opening.

Families recognized as descendants submitted two competing reburial plans and met last weekend to resolve their differences, according to Dan Davidson, deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the agency that oversees the state native burials law. However, he said, they were unable to come to terms.

Wal-Mart will be open today until midnight. Normal hours will be from 6 a.m. to midnight. A 150,000-square-foot members-only Sam's Club is scheduled to open Oct. 21 on top of Wal-Mart.

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8065.