Ward merchants resist new policy
The tenants are upset about being required to have extended shopping hours during the holiday season
Several merchants at Ward Centers are uniting to oppose extended hours planned by the retail complex's Chicago-based owner and operator, General Growth Properties Inc.
New store hours, which General Growth says it is requiring to keep the complex competitive, include opening at 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, as well as extended hours during the holiday season.
Ward Centers is home to more than 100 shops, and more than 35 restaurants and eateries along Ala Moana Boulevard and Ward Avenue. The complex includes Ward Center, Ward Warehouse, Ward Farmer's Market and Ward Gateway Center.
In a memo to Ward retailers, management said that beginning Dec. 29, all mall tenants must hold extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays -- from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays, and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays.
Current shopping hours are from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The new hours are in response to General Growth's research and evaluation of consumer shopping patterns, according to Sharon James, regional vice president of marketing.
"General Growth conducted some research and the one piece of data consistent across the board is that shoppers want extended hours, especially during the holiday season." she said. "We're looking at all holidays going forward, based on this research."
Those holidays include Valentine's Day, Father's Day, Mother's Day, Labor Day and Memorial Day.
Local merchants, however, say the studies do not apply to Hawaii, which has its own unique culture and pattern of shopping, especially for specialty boutique shops that make up the bulk of Ward Centers.
"We all know from experience that our customers do not come here that early in the morning," said one merchant, who declined to give a name for fear of retaliation. "If we were Kmart or Wal-Mart, this would make sense, but we're not."
A petition being circulated among merchants asks General Growth to reconsider the new hours. Extended holiday hours are to be expected, they say, but could be more reasonable.
Exceptions to the new hours can be made for special events or circumstances, according to the memo sent to retailers.
General Growth said it would not discuss tenant lease terms, but James said the company would address merchants' individual concerns.
If forced to comply with the hours, many retailers said they would have to hire an extra employee to cover an extra shift, a challenge during the state's tight labor market.
Also, the extended hours mean time detracted from family. One merchant said that to open by 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, she would have to be at the shop by 4 a.m. to get it ready.
General Growth acquired the 65-acre retail and entertainment complex from Victoria Ward Ltd. in April 2002. General Growth also owns Ala Moana Center and Prince Kuhio Plaza, and manages Windward Mall.
The main point of contention for merchants is the idea that if they open their doors early, customers will come. This may be true for big-box stores or department stores, say merchants, but for a specialty boutique shop, the extended hours do not bring additional sales, nor do they balance out the cost of extra labor.
A trial case was held on Father's Day in June, said some of the retailers, when doors opened earlier than usual, at 8 a.m. But that morning proved to be fruitless in bringing in more sales or revenue, they said.
Even in Waikiki, which caters to tourists, many shops typically don't open until 9 a.m., except for convenience stores like ABC Stores, which opens at 6:30 a.m. High-end boutiques like Chanel at 2100 Kalakaua open at 10 a.m.
"No one's going to line up in front of the store at 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving to buy something from our store," said another shop owner, who says she knows from experience.
She said that if there was additional marketing to promote the center, or if the earlier hours made business sense, then merchants would welcome the change.
With retail space scarce, many of the merchants say they are still reluctant to move out of Ward Centers, despite high rents. The mandatory extension of hours would be yet another challenge to contend with.