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Maika‘i Marketplace

Chantal Zarbaugh, who assists with marketing at Coconut Marketplace, loves the mall’s rich history.

COCONUT MARKETPLACE IS GETTING WITH THE TIMES, AND THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE — LIKE MARKETING ASSISTANT CHANTAL ZARBAUGH — WHO WANT TO SEE THE MALL RESTORED TO ITS FORMER GLORY.

Galilea Mercado is the epitome of adorable with flowers in her hair, a big grin on her face and an ipu in her hands that’s almost the same size as she is. The 5-year-old is getting ready to perform with her hula sisters at Coconut Marketplace’s center stage. She’s part of Hālau Hula o Leilani and is one of several keiki who perform regularly at the outdoor shopping mall.

“It’s good to carry on the tradition of Hawaiian music,” says Darryl Low, who is married to Mercado’s kumu hula, Leilani Rivera Low. “You don’t want that to run away from you.”

Hālau Hula o Leilani dazzles audiences with a free performance at the eastside mall.

Low, who accompanies the hālau with his music, has been providing traditional entertainment at the Kapa‘a mall for more than 15 years. He and his wife also have a space at Coconut Marketplace — Ka U‘i O Ka ‘Āina, Kaua‘i Cultural Center — where they perpetuate the culture and teach Hawaiian arts to residents and visitors, including hula, lei making and ‘ukulele. Though the mall has seen better days and has undergone several economic lulls, Low is committed to riding out the waves and anticipates a rebound, which is why he chooses to stay.

“It’s a beautiful location right now; it’s really set up well,” he says regarding recent renovations.

The rancher, whose family heritage dates back to Parker Ranch and what he calls the “paniolo days,” grew up on the eastside and experienced Coconut Marketplace at its prime.

“I’ve seen it ‘once upon a time’ when it was very busy,” he says. “It was one of the attractions to go to, and I can foresee it coming back.”

Mary Lou Mendes in one of her three stores at Coconut Marketplace.

Chantal Zarbaugh, a Kapa‘a High School graduate, who assists with marketing at the mall, also remembers Coconut Marketplace during its heyday.

“There’s history here,” she says.

Slowly but surely, there’s evidence that things are looking up. Fresh paint, updated structures, and new shops such as contemporary clothing store Flash Boutique are opening up at ABC Stores-owned Coconut Marketplace. And several other establishments are slated to launch in the coming months, including Chicken in a Barrel, Coconut Thai Cuisine and JoJo’s Shave Ice. The marketplace is also following the trend of hosting pop-up, or temporary, shops. Blue Umi is doing business now, and Iwi Nani Jewelry is scheduled to open in June.

“Before signing the lease, I spent some time walking around the marketplace,” says Brianne Light, owner of Iwi Nani Jewelry.

She vividly remembers hanging out at the mall when she was younger and watching movies at the former theater. So she put pen to paper and will have her own storefront this summer. A pop-up shop is a way for business owners like Light, who don’t have a permanent space, to “test it out.”

“This is my chance to see if running my own store is the right thing for me and my business,” says Light, who plans on holding jewelry-making workshops. “Also, I really love all the renovations they’ve done. They brought the marketplace back to life. It really is beautiful.”

Jonathan Dahilog, Island Country Markets store manager, can’t wait to see the new-and-improved Coconut Marketplace.

Veterans of Coconut Marketplace like Mary Lou Mendes are also happy about the renovations. She’s been affiliated with Coconut Marketplace for some 40 years, first as its manager and now as a retail owner who currently has three stores at the eastside locale — Na Koa Surf Co., Jungle Rain and Bodacious. She’s no stranger to the ebb and flow of the center since it opened in the early 1970s, back when it was part of Coconut Plantation owned by Blackfield Hawai‘i Corp. The mall underwent three phrases of original construction, the last in 1978, and was the first visitor-oriented mall of its kind on the island. She’s seen it bounce back from the doldrums on several occasions, and though she admits times haven’t been easy in recent years, she anticipates that the rejuvenation will help Coconut Marketplace spring back to life.

“You can’t beat the atmosphere here,” she says.

Eateries like Island Country Markets, which opened in December 2017, have already drawn more people to the mall, especially since it houses a deli and coffee shop within walking distance of several resorts.

“I heard this used to be such an ‘in’ place and we hope to create that again,” says Jonathan Dahilog, Island Country Markets store manager.

Renovations have been ongoing for the past six years, but since construction recently accelerated, the only items left to complete are updating the parking lot and adding a tour bus station. There are no plans to replace once-beloved attractions like the movie theater, but the mall will continue to host a myriad of activities, including regular cultural entertainment and a free family movie night each month.

Still, there’s more to be accomplished. Only about 36 percent of the mall is occupied at this time, and more than 50 spaces are available. Zarbaugh’s goal is to fill as many of those as possible, as she aims for Coconut Marketplace to regain its former glory and become a hangout spot not only for visitors but for kama‘āina, as well.

“So this place can once again flourish like it used to,” she adds.

Visit coconutmarketplace.com for more information.

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