Part I: Introduction

More than 42 million shoppers visit Ala Moana Center every year and spend over $1 billion, making it one of the most successful shopping malls in the world.

But Ala Moana is more than retail, food and entertainment. It’s a destination and a part of our social fabric.

For nearly 55 years, Ala Moana Center has been Hawaii’s gathering place.

“It is the gathering place, certainly for Honolulu, and not to mention too, neighbor island people still make special trips for shopping to come to Ala Moana,” said Bishop Museum historian DeSoto Brown.

“We come here because there’s a lot of stores we don’t have on Maui,” said Wailuku resident Esmie Boulson.

It’s where people have shopped for decades and friends have mingled.

Ala Moana Center
Ala Moana Center, present day

Fumi Matsushima has been working at Shirokiya since 1959. “The people come from all the world to here and they shop and enjoy,” she said.

“Outside Sears and Longs, there were all these old guys sitting around chatting with each other because they got together there,” Brown said. “You’ll go and hang out there, even if you don’t buy something.”

And it’s where memories have been made.

“I’d go to Patti’s Chinese Kitchen and Lynn’s Delicatessen. Those were probably my biggest memories,” said author and historian Bob Sigall.

But, like all of Hawaii, the world’s largest open-air mall has grown and continues to evolve into a world class mall that never loses sight of its mission.

“It’s transformational. The next 10-15 years, this place is going to look very different and I think how people celebrate life in this area is going to change dramatically,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “Our Ala Moana area is kind like our version of Roman Forum. It’s where people come together to celebrate life, to shop, to eat, to sit, to talk story.”

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