Safeway opens big new Kapahulu store
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By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By Mary Vorsino
The new, 64,000-square-foot Safeway store on Kapahulu Avenue opens this morning to fears it will worsen traffic back-ups in the neighborhood, a main corridor to Waikiki.
But many also hope the supermarket complex — with 14 surrounding storefronts — will breathe new life into the Kapahulu business district, dominated by small eateries and specialty shops. Business owners just hope bad traffic doesn't keep people away.
Thousands are expected to turn out today for the opening of the supermarket, which boasts everything from a sushi bar to an in-store Starbucks. The complex also will feature an additional 14,800 square feet of retail space for 14 eateries and shops.
Company officials say the Kapahulu store — the largest Safeway in the state — is meeting the needs of an underserved area, which had been down to two supermarkets — Foodland in Market City Shopping Center and Times Super Market on Wai'alae Avenue — after Star Market in Kahala Mall closed in March.
"It's an incredible opportunity to be opening a store at this location," said Safeway spokeswoman Espe Greenwood, adding that the store will feature Safeway's "lifestyle" format, with warm lighting and inviting ambience along with a wide selection of fresh, local produce and organically grown products.
Safeway declined to say how many customers it expects to frequent the store on normal days, but residents say the influx will be significant for the community, whose main thoroughfare is already overstressed and whose side streets are mainly narrow residential lanes with no sidewalks.
"The number of people who will be using the facility will be unusual to Kapahulu. There will be significant (traffic) back-ups," said Ken Chang, a member of the Kapahulu Business Association and vice-chairman of the Diamond Head/Kapahulu/St. Louis Heights Neighborhood Board.
But, he added, "There will also be a significant increase in newer people," which could be a boon for area businesses.
A group of residents who live in buildings just mauka of Safeway say they will hold signs along Kapahulu Avenue today to ask drivers not to block their driveways. They say a new traffic light at Olu Street and the anticipated increase in vehicles is certain to block them in.
"As long as the traffic light is there, the traffic is going to back up," said Doug Olivares, who lives in the 72-unit Holiday Parkway Apartments next to Safeway.
Residents also worry about the overall traffic in the neighborhood.
They say Kapahulu Avenue is already at capacity, serving not only the community but as a main feeder road into Waikiki and Diamond Head.
More than 40,000 vehicles travel on Kapahulu Avenue on weekdays, according to a traffic study conducted for the Safeway project. From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., the road carries more than 2,000 cars per hour.
Safeway officials say off-duty police officers will be on hand through the weekend to direct traffic on Kapahulu Avenue. The traffic situation also will be monitored over the next three months, Safeway officials said, to determine whether any changes can be made to improve slow-downs.
In addition to customers, the supermarket has 300 employees — not counting the dozens more who will work at the shops surrounding the market.
During a soft opening for the store yesterday, traffic moved relatively smoothly — thanks to valet parking, and police officers and security guards directing traffic.
The soft opening, from 4 to 8 p.m., drew hundreds of people looking for bargains, free food and entertainment. Many were also curious to see what the new store had to offer.
"I think there's a need for it here," said Kapahulu resident Bart Wilson. "For those of us in the community, it's within walking distance."
The store's exterior is designed to look retro, with smooth lines and red accents. Safeway officials said the architecture is meant to better blend in with the overall look of Kapahulu.
Friends Chuen Chan, 77, and Malia Chan, 72, traveled from Chinatown by bus to see the new store. And they were impressed. "Wow, it's big!" said Chuen Chan, smiling.
The two said they would likely be back soon to do some serious shopping.
The Safeway project kicked off two years ago, with a series of public meetings to discuss everything from traffic to noise. Residents shot down a plan to put in a discount gas station at the site, and a mini-mart on the street for customers on foot.
To alleviate traffic woes along Kapahulu Avenue, the California-based company also widened the thoroughfare in front of the complex and installed the traffic light at Olu Street. At the light, crews put in a 200-foot turn lane for people to get into the complex.
The store placed its main entrances and exits on Kapahulu Avenue, but also put an exit and entrance on Leialoha Street, behind the store.
The measures were approved by the city, but some residents say more should have been done to keep traffic flowing.
Olivares, who lives in the apartment next to Safeway, compared the store's impact on traffic to the Wal-Mart store on Ke'eaumoku Avenue or the Costco in Iwilei. Both create traffic headaches, especially during peak hours and on weekends.
But the biggest difference, Olivares said, is that Safeway has positioned itself in a much smaller, largely residential community.
Olivares and other residents at the Holiday Parkway are pushing for "do not block" signs in front of their driveway, and they have the support of City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi.
They say every time the light at Olu Street turns red, even without heavy traffic, cars block their driveway.
"I experienced it myself the other day, and my ire really went up," said Amy Mizuno, who has lived at Holiday Parkway for 36 years.
The city is reviewing a proposal to put in the signs. And Richard Torres, deputy director of the city Department of Transportation Services, said engineers will review other traffic complaints once the novelty of the stores dies down and a better assessment of traffic in the area can be made.
Kobayashi, whose district includes Kapahulu, said many residents want Safeway in the community — but don't want to pay for it with more time spent on the road. She said officials are considering long-term options for Kapahulu Avenue, though she said it's unclear what more could be done to improve traffic.
"It's a very busy street already," she said. "We don't want it to be such a mess that people stop going there (Kapahulu) altogether."
Despite the threat of bad traffic, Kapahulu businesses are largely looking forward to the opening of the store. They hope the complex will mean new customers, especially visitors.
"I think it's good for everybody," said David Martinez, owner of La Bamba restaurant. "Wherever you go, there's traffic. What can you do?"
Jennifer Greneaux, owner of the Ho'onani Salon & Day Spa on Kapahulu Avenue, said she has seen an increase in foot traffic as visitors and others come down to the community to check out the Safeway and happen upon her business.
"I'm definitely for it," she said. "It will be a good thing."
Reach Mary Vorsino at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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