Longs plan raises some concerns
By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By James Gonser
The expected sale of a 50-year-old commercial building at the intersection of Liliha and Kuakini streets to Longs Drug Stores has prompted some of the current shop owners to move out before being evicted and others in the community to seek protection for what they consider a historical structure.
But some residents say Longs' planned "prescription-only" store would be welcome in a neighborhood that has few options for families and elderly residents to buy medicine and fill prescriptions.
"We only have one pharmacy open to the public and it closes about 4:30 p.m.," said Sesnita Moepono, chairwoman of the Liliha/Pu'unui/'Alewa/Kamehameha Heights Neighborhood Board. "At least we would have a pharmacy in the area for people to come home after work and get their prescriptions filled."
At the Jan. 9 meeting of the neighborhood board, Longs representatives gave a presentation on their plans for the 14,273-square-foot site that has an asking price of $1.975 million. The drugstore chain's plan is for a two-story structure with parking below and a store above that would focus on medicine rather than the wide variety of merchandise sold at other locations.
The residential neighborhood is also home to Kuakini Health Systems, St. Francis Medical Center, Rehab Hospital of the Pacific and almost two dozen other medical clinics and therapy centers that could make use of the pharmacy, Moepono said.
Real estate firm Grubb & Ellis Co. confirmed there is a contract being negotiated to sell the parcel to Longs, but the deal has not yet been completed. A local Longs representative did not return calls for comment on this story.
The Soneda family owns the building, which opened in 1957. For more than 40 years, the sign for Midori Dressmaker has hung above the corner shop, making it a well-known landmark.
Taeko Peterka purchased the shop, which was renamed Watanabe Dressmaker and Alterations a year ago. The familiar sign still hangs out front, but she is moving this weekend to 2824 S. King St., near the Hawaiian Humane Society.
"It's very sad," Peterka said. "This is a very good location. A busy street. But it's better to move than waiting around wondering when it is happening."
State Rep. Corinne W.L. Ching, who represents the area, is a founding member of the bipartisan Heritage Caucus formed by lawmakers this session to protect and promote Hawai'i's unique cultural traditions and historical sites.
Ching said historical preservation should apply not only to official buildings like 'Iolani Palace or Washington Place, but also to neighborhood structures that represent the character of the community.
"A couple of things are special about this building," said Ching, R-27th (Liliha, Pu'unui). "It was built by a local family and it's got these beautiful railings, but it also beckons to another time —pre-statehood, when you had walkable, livable communities."
The simple white building with turquoise trim has large, low windows in the ground-floor shops allowing passers-by to see inside. It is next to Liliha Bakery, which has been serving diners in the area for 55 years.
By Monday, the only shop left open on the ground floor will be Ichiban Sushi.
The shiatsu shop and the hairdresser upstairs plan to stay until they are evicted.
Ching understands why the family is selling the property, but she's hoping that if Longs completes the purchase, they will consider keeping the building facade and then renovating it for their use.
"That would keep the feeling and they could still have their pharmacy," she said.
"When you ask what is heritage, what is local culture, you can't just say music and food. What about restaurants we have the food in and the charming little community that makes us feel we are in Kaimuki or Liliha?"
Reach James Gonser at firstname.lastname@example.org.