Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center in Search of Hawai‘i Made Brands
Managers at the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center on Maui are setting their marketing efforts on a new program that gives Hawai‘i-made brands and products an opportunity to compete for a chance to win a free “cart” or shop space at the center for three months.
The program comes as the center faces foreclosure litigation, seeks to recover from a year of pandemic impacts, and looks ahead to next year’s milestone 50th anniversary.
“Last year’s pandemic affected many brick and mortar stores, but it also allowed entrepreneurs to pivot and try new things,” said Kauwela Bisquera, Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center’s General Manager. “Our islands are rich with wonderful talent and we want to prioritize and celebrate the people and products that make our island home so special.”
The “Start with a Cart” program invites all local businesses including apparel, accessories, products and services to apply, with “cart” referring to the cart space being offered.
“We’re excited to reinvigorate the center again,” said Marina Satoafaiga, regional marketing director for Pacific Retail Capital Partners, the management company for the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center, noting that this will be first real event hosted by the center since the pandemic began.
In a phone interview with Maui Now, she said, “Retail in general has definitely been impacted. It’s not unique to the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center… We’re hoping to engage e-commerce or businesses that sprouted during the pandemic and are looking for long term success. We’re looking for someone ready to take a leap and needs a little nudge to try their product out in a brick and mortar space.”
“That could mean and look like a lot of different things,” said Satoafaiga, noting that all types of Hawaiʻi-made bands, products, services and businesses–both existing and new–are encouraged to apply by June 18, 2021. Applicants are then invited to join a public selection event on Saturday, June 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
At the event, the winner will be determined by a combination of the number of votes received by the general public and a judging panel that includes representatives from Maui County Office of Economic Development, the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College and Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. Applicants will be judged on different elements including visuals, uniqueness of the product and concept. The public is also encouraged to participate with swag bags going to the first 200 voters.
The program is made possible under a partnership with the Maui County Office of Economic Development, with the hopes of providing businesses an opportunity to test their product with the larger Maui community and visitors.
“Start with a Cart is a risk-free opportunity for emerging Maui entrepreneurs to test-market a new product,” said Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino. “As our post-pandemic economy is ramping up, this is an excellent time to introduce a new product or brand with support from Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center. When residents and visitors buy local products, the dollars stay and circulate in our community and that’s always a good thing.”
The Start with a Cart program is the start of a more robust return to retail in the months ahead for the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center. “We’re definitely excited to reprogram. It’s been pretty quiet during the current mandate,” said Satoafaiga, as Maui continues to operate under a 50% capacity restriction for retail facilities.
Spaces once occupied by Hallmark, Pac Sun, Sanrio, Payless Shoe Store and Forever 21 are among the retail spaces that stand empty following closures. Some are decorated with displays or artwork, while others feature marketing material soliciting future tenants.
There’s also a survey taking place now that encourages the public to share what local brands that they would like to see at center. Participants are entered for a chance to win a $50 gift card to a retailer of choice by June 30. Artists or cultural practitioners who wish to share their talent are invited to contact the center’s marketing department at [email protected] for opportunities.
Management is also looking to bring back Kamaʻāina Nights, the QKC’s local music series. “We want to activate the center… As we reopen and as mandates loosen, we look forward to making more announcements to come. We really want to invite the public to be a part of the process,” said Satoafaiga.
“The mission of Pacific Retail Capital Partners is to find the highest and best use for this asset. As consumer needs evolve, we’re looking for what that next iteration is,” said Satoafaiga. “That includes recommitting to the community places and spaces for our kamaʻāina to gather… QKC and its main stage has been a community hub for many years… We have a commitment to activate the main stage again and really support locally made Hawaiʻi based businesses. That’s going to the priority right now.”
With an estimated 571,000 square-foot space, the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center features more than 100 shops and restaurants, including island’s only department stores Macy’s and Sears, national brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Vans and Champs along with an all-digital, six-screen Ka‘ahumanu Theatre.