CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Palama Supermarket is one of the potential suitors to take over the lease of 99 Ranch Market, which has been operating at 1151 Mapunapuna St. since 1997. Both Palama Supermarket and 99 Ranch Market cater to Asian foods customers. CLICK FOR LARGE
Palama market in talks over 99 Ranch lease
The Korean supermarket operator may take the space, but not the name
The state's largest Asian supermarket, 99 Ranch Market, may have a replacement soon, although the store is still slated to close on Feb. 28.
Palama Supermarket is one of the potential suitors for the store's lease, although no contract has been signed yet.
Daniel Lim, manager of Palama, confirmed that there have been ongoing negotiations with Honolulu Warehouse Ltd., which owns the master lease for the store as well as Moanalua Ethnic Village, and that it is interested in the Mapunapuna site.
"If the negotiations come out positive, however, I don't believe we would run it as a 99 Ranch," said Lim. "We might change the name or offer a similar concept under a different name."
Palama Supermarket, which caters primarily to a Korean ethnic market, has two stores, one in Kalihi and one on Makaloa Street near the Kapiolani corridor.
The shelves at 99 Ranch Market, meanwhile, were half empty yesterday as customers comb what remains for its 30 percent closeout sale.
Shopper Richard Lum, a Salt Lake resident, said he will miss his weekly trips to the store.
Lum likes to buy the fresh crab, which he says are priced well, along with poke and dried beancurds.
Sunrise U.S.A. Inc. has owned the supermarket at 1151 Mapunapuna St. since 1997. The store opened a year later as the anchor of the Moanalua Ethnic Village, which offers a food court and variety of shops.
Hiroshi Kobayashi owns a stake in both Sunrise U.S.A., which runs the 99 Ranch store under license, as well as Honolulu Warehouse Co., which leases the space to vendors of the food court at Moanalua Ethnic Village.
Kobayashi declined to be interviewed or to say why 99 Ranch Market was closing.
Southern California-based Tawa Supermarket owns the chain of 99 Ranch Markets, which were launched in 1984.
The supermarket is like its mainstream counterparts, except that it also houses a wide variety of Asian products, ranging from canned jackfruit to pickled radish, rice stick noodles and rice wine, along with a bakery, deli, frozen section and fresh seafood.
Tawa owns more than 20 full-service stores in California as well as Washington state, and has licensees in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Indonesia.
The Honolulu license was one of the last to be granted, according to Alan Lee, vice chairman of Tawa Supermarket.
Lee said he couldn't comment on why 99 Ranch in Honolulu was closing, but said Tawa had no plans to take over the Hawaii store.
The chain is doing very well on the mainland, he said, and growing rapidly, with two new locations planned for California.
99 Ranch Market tends to thrive in California suburbs from Silicon Valley to Los Angeles, where there is a growing base of Asian Americans, but is also beginning to appeal to a broader demographic of shoppers, according to Lee.
Market analyst Marty Plotnick said he thinks 99 Ranch's lack of easy access, and increasing competition, may have led to its decision to close.
Being visible from the H-1 Freeway, he said, is no use if the store is not easily accessible.
"This has got to be a hard location," he said. "You've got to have visibility, and that is not a thoroughfare. You've also got to have breadth and depth of product."
Plotnick said big box stores like Costco Wholesale Corp. and Sam's Club, as well as Safeway, pose competition for 99 Ranch, because they, too, offer ethnic products to serve Hawaii's demographic.
"Everyone who is in the food retail business in Hawaii is in the ethnic food business," he said.
The December announcement of 99 Ranch's closure was followed by news of the shuttering of three other grocery stores: two Star Markets and the discount Grocery Outlet in Kalihi.