Friday, May 20, 2011

THE WALKIN' MAN WALKS

THE WALKIN' MAN WALKS: The news that "Big Save" has been sold and the Lihu`e store will be closing is cause to shed tears for some on the island in one of the oddities of Kaua`i life that, despite decades of cultural indoctrination, we'll probably never get used to... and no, it has nothing about the pidgin-ish name.

We remember when Safeway had its "soft" opening we happened to be out dancing at "Gilligan's" that night and, since we had heard they were scheduled to open their doors at midnight, we skipped taking the left up to the homesteads and figures we quickly zip on over and check it out.

But by the time we hit the Coconut Marketplace we ran full square into a then-unheard-of-during-the-day, much less at midnight, traffic jam in then-traffic-light-free Kapa`a.

When we finally crawled into the packed parking lot and into the store the place was a madhouse with lines wending their way from every cashier lane all the way to the back of the store.... and they were starting to double back down the aisles.

The manager- one experienced at opening Safeways on the mainland- was simply standing there at the front of the store shaking his head. We asked why and he said the only time he had ever seen this many people at a Safeway opening it was for a protest demonstration.

The rub is that the local tradition of crying over closings has its roots in the days when mom and pop having their rice bowl broken actually was a true tragedy but it has evolved into a 21st century tendency to agonize when one large corporation is eaten up by another, even larger corporation.

The demise of the Lihu`e store- set to shut down entirely because the buyer, Times Supermarkets, already has a store in Lihu`e after their recent buy-out of Star Market- may actually be one of those crisis/opportunity moments for Kaua`i taxpayers.

The dilemma is in figuring out which one it actually is.

For the past bazillion years- or at least it seems that way- ever since the county purchased the old shopping center where the Big Save sits for the county's main offices, a string of councils and administrations have been promoting something called the Lihu`e Town Core Plan.

The county has already spent beaucoup bucks on consultants to design many different versions of the plan- some including an unaffordable-in-perpetuity underground parking garage- yet almost all call for creating a park like atmosphere, accomplished by closing the big wide street between Big Save and the state and historic county buildings, eliminating the parking spaces and putting in grass, trees and picnic tables.

They’ve also spent oodles of cash on trying to come up with a viable traffic circulation plan (they've done at least three over the years) since the road set for closing is the main access route for going across from Rice St. to Hardy St. without having to go all the way down to the convention hall to go the one block to get across town.

People who don't live in Lihu`e have called the plan the stupidest thing since the Edsel, asking "who the heck goes to hang out in the middle of town on an island where the beach and more-rural parks are always a stone's throw away?"

Ask anyone and they'll tell you that a trip to Lihu`e involves getting in and getting out as quickly as possible, booty in hand, without choking on exhaust- not picnicking in the middle of it.

But of course the councils and administrations and all the we-bes- the ones who will ultimately decide what to do- all think it's a wonderful amenity because they actually DO hang out there all day and a nice place to eat lunch would be swell.

The conflicting dilemmas though are multitudinous, not the least of which is the parking. The plan has called for county workers to park all the way down at the convention hall or even as far away as the stadium because there are events in the day time at the convention hall, and taking shuttle buses to work at the county complex a mile away.

So of course there's the hair-brained nature of not only expecting people to drive into Lihu`e to hang out but expecting them to take a shuttle bus to do so.

The biggest bugaboo has always been what to do about Big Save which is a valuable- and pretty high rent paying- tenant that contributes essential big buckskE to county coffers and was always envisioned as a money maker for the county even when it was FoodLand.

That's was the positive, at least as far as the bean counters were concerned. The negative was that the plan called for taking away all of Big Save's parking and actually shuttling shoppers from the Stadium, somehow assuming customers wouldn't mind an extra half hour in town to pick up a chicken for dinner.

If indeed the county decides to take over the location for office space and to facilitate (read: pay for) the Town Core Plan and just blow off the rent money that would mean that the last supermarket- as a matter of fact the last anykind food store- in Lihu`e Town will disappear since all the others have moved to Kuku`i Grove... certainly not within walking distance.

That of course would mean that the whole stated purpose of the plan- to get those who live in town out of their cars and make it into a "walking town"- would be defeated because those who live there would have to get in their cars to pick up cans of Vienna Sausage.

It's hard to shed a tear for Big Save, especially for those of us who paid the exorbitant prices for mainland goods in the pre-Safeway- and now of course Costco- era.

But for the county it's more about opening cans of worms than purchasing cans of Spam.

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