By Gary T. Kubota, Star-Bulletin
Alan Jay, owner of Moonbow Tropics boutique and
president of the Paia Merchants Association, says,
"One of the biggest challenges we're facing is limited parking."
Rural Paia, Maui,
Merchants say the townBy Gary T. Kubota
needs an 82-stall parking
lot; many residents say no
PAIA, Maui -- Business leaders hope to turn this rural town into more than a gathering place for alternative lifestyles and a drive-through for visitors on the way to Hana.
The merchants want a municipal parking lot, where visitors can stop and tour the town, but some residents don't want it.
"I don't think we need a parking lot," said Tina Davila, a cashier and manager at Mana Foods, a store that sells natural foods.
"If anything, you guys should make a playground for the kids in Paia."
Under the proposal, the county would spend an estimated $250,000 to develop an 82-stall parking lot on the Kahului edge of town, mauka of Hana Highway.
The site, overgrown with bushes, would require permits for changes in land and coastal use.
Most of the town's wooden buildings were built during the early 1900s when the Paia sugar mill was the main source of employment for residents.
While the mill continues to operate and Paia, population about 2,091, is billed as "Maui's Historic Plantation Town," the town has gone through some dramatic changes in the last few decades.
Parts of the town have become a gathering place for new-age and "hippie" lifestyles, where some people wear tie-dyed shirts and someone occasionally plays a flute on the sidewalk.
A couple of years ago, scores of youths who followed the rock band Grateful Dead visited Maui for several months after the death of lead singer Jerry Garcia.
Along nearby Baldwin Avenue, there's a vegetarian restaurant called the Vegan, a Tibetan Buddhist dharma center and a store selling and renting a large collection of music from the 1960s.
The town is also a gathering place for windsurfers from Europe, South America and Japan.
"I like it because everybody is different, nothing's cookie-cutter," said Michele Lin, who works at Nuage Bleu clothing boutique.
"It's not the mall. It's pretty much 'everything goes.' It's very accepting."
Alan Jay, president of the Paia Merchants Association, which represents 70 businesses, said a municipal parking lot is needed to accommodate the growth in the last 10 years.
"One of the biggest challenges we're facing is limited parking," said Jay, owner of Moonbow Tropics boutique.
Paia artist Clayton McKinnon said he doesn't like some recent changes in the town, such as the way merchants have eliminated places to sit and talk.
Recently, a wire fence has been installed around a grass lot in the center of town, where some residents gathered under a tree in the afternoon.
Merchants said the lot had become a place for drunkards and drug dealers, especially at night.
Mark Nagata, general manager of Nagata Store, said that while he's in favor of the new parking lot, he's against residential development expanding from Kahului to Paia.
"We don't want to lose the rural quality of our town," Nagata said.