Part VI: Transformation

The year 1999 was a big year for Ala Moana Center. In July, just 10 months after Hawaii’s first Neiman Marcus store opened its doors, General Growth Properties purchased Ala Moana for $810 million.

General Growth’s portfolio of more than 120 malls in 40 states instantly got stronger.

In June 2001, an announcement was made that brought mixed emotions — one of the best-known names in retail was coming to Hawaii.

Macy’s would put an end to Liberty House’s 152-year reign as the king of retail in the islands.

“When you want to buy something affordable, you go to the right side,” said Salt Lake resident Yuna Choy. “You want to spend a little more money, go to the left side, go to Macy’s. And if you really want to see the expensive things, just go to the middle.”

Two years later, Honolulu said aloha to another old friend. On January 10, 2003, J.C. Penney closed its doors after serving Ala Moana shoppers for 36 years.

“It seems like each time we come, because we live in Mililani, each time we come there’s always something different, so it’s always changing, but it’s really nice,” said Mililani resident Bruce Shimizu.

Ala Moana expanded over the next five years with more restaurants, new wings and the opening of Hawaii’s first full-line Nordstrom store along with an 800-stall parking garage.

Hawaii residents were changing their buying habits.

“We’re very accustomed to the idea now that those very high-end stores are there,” said Bishop Museum historian DeSoto Brown. “We’re not bothered anymore and in fact, interestingly, I think nowadays you’ll see local people shopping in those stores which they wouldn’t before.”

“When I come here, I like to come shopping and my favorite store now is Bath & Body Works,” said Kahului resident Bernie Markins.

Without question, the biggest closing of them all — and certainly the most emotional — happened on June 2, 2013. After more nearly 54 years, Sears at Ala Moana closed its doors for good.

“You felt a little bit pushed out. If you were a regular Ala Moana shopper, you were bothered by that to a degree,” Brown said.

Rendering: General Growth Properties

A month before Sears closed, General Growth announced plans to demolish the Sears store and replace it with a new and expanded 650,000-square-foot Ewa wing that would be anchored by Bloomingdale’s.

Nordstrom will also make the move to this wing along with other stores, dining and entertainment.

“Every year, little by little, it’s changing, but it’s fun to always come to shop,” Choy said.

“I think this is a game-changer for the entire island and definitely for urban core,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

At the center of the transformation is Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company Inc.

“(This is) just as exciting as what occurred in the 1950s with the first phase or a few years later with the second phase,” said the company’s president Bill Wilson. “When this reopens, with the new expanded center court, all of the additional retail that’s planned for this end of the mall, it will be an event similar to that 1959 event.”

“I think shopping centers have to keep evolving. It’s really providing an experience to the shopper, how can we make that experience a great one,” said Francis Cofran of General Growth Properties, the center’s general manager.

“I think you’re going to see more Microsoft, Apple, technological-type stores come about,” said shopper Paul Ventura.

“A lot more shops, I’m sure,” said Kohala resident Billy Rodrigues. “The variety of things you can get now back then we couldn’t get as much.”

“It will be our 2015 version of 1959 that people will be talking about until much later in the century,” Wilson said.

Construction is scheduled to be completed by November 2015, but the transformation is far from complete.

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