Closing of Ward Warehouse leaves many tenants unsure of their future

We first told you Thursday that Ward Warehouse would be shutting down for good in August.

On Friday, we checked around to find out what’s going to happen to all those stores.

The shopping mall has been around for 40 years, but was originally intended to last only 15 years.

The businesses there have known for a while that the complex would eventually close, but many tenants still aren’t sure where they’ll go next, or if they’ll be able to afford moving.

Some tenants told us that Ward Warehouse offered the ideal space because of its location and parking. Not only are they unsure of where to go, some like Maile Meyer, founder of Na Mea Hawaii/Native Books, also worry the Hawaiian culture will be lost in this area, too.

It’s been a bittersweet day for Meyer and her fellow tenants. Meyer just opened four stores in the mall Friday morning, just two days after she was given notice of its closure in August.

“We opened a few stores thinking we were gonna be here for a few years,” she said.

Allison Izu Song, owner of the clothing store The Collective says “the local clientele has really come out and supported our brand, so we’ve been really lucky and fortunate to be here.”

Meyer and the other tenants tell us they’re trying to figure out their next move. They want to stay in the area, but affordability is a concern.

“Especially in Hawaii, it’s a really competitive retail market right now,” Meyer said, “so we’d like to find a home that is easy for our customers to get to with great parking.”

“It’s very expensive to be in the primary areas for retail today,” said real estate analyst Stephany Sofos, “so if you’re a small mom-and-pop, you have to make twice the amount of money that a national or international retailer does.”

Developer Howard Hughes Corporation has already relocated some tenants to Ward Village down the street. We’re told once the new site is finished, retail space will be available for tenants, but would it be affordable?

Company senior manager Bobbie Lau says “as far as the individual tenant, it’s going to depend on their business plan and their business ability to survive in general. I can say that our rates will always be in line with the market. It has to be in order for us to survive as well.”

“I worry because it’s hard not to worry,” Meyer said. “Things are changing and they’re changing in a way that you wonder who the change is for.”

For now, Meyer tells us her businesses are staying put and she remains positive until the August closing.

“We’re Hawaiians on the urban shoreline now, making beautiful things, cultural local products, so many people making things,” she said, “and we wanted to make sure that we continue to celebrate that.”

The Howard Hughes Corporation tells us they plan to keep local tenants on the new site, as well as the vibrant Hawaiian culture that’s currently at Ward Warehouse.

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