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Ward Centers filled with vacancies


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POSTED: Tuesday, February 10, 2009

There are more and more empty spaces these days at Ward Centers, the collection of more than 135 retail shops and eateries run by General Growth Properties.

Besides the recent abrupt closure of Brew Moon Restaurant & Microbrewery at Ward Centre, other absences include Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Lids, Paper Roses, MisFortune and Under a Hula Moon.

Under a Hula Moon closed up shop at Ward, but still has its Kailua location.

Upstairs, the space vacated by Compadres remains empty. The Seasonal Store, which filled the former Nordstrom Shoes space temporarily, closed by the end of December.

SoHa Living is holding a closeout sale, with plans to move to Kahala Mall next week after seven years at Ward.

Retailers along Auahi Street say foot traffic is not as high as they expected, and that they originally thought the retail center anchored by Whole Foods Market across the street would be completed as early as 2006.

Three years later, the shell of the new parking garage stands in limbo as the developer grapples with contractor liens.

Ward Centers spokeswoman Diane Bruce could not be reached for comment by press time yesterday.

“;The problem is the rent's high, and you need to have traffic,”; said retail analyst Stephany Sofos. “;Everybody's volume is down anywhere from 15 to 20 percent from a year ago. If the base rents remain, and common maintenance fees go up, your total overall rent has gone up.”;

The smaller boutiques and mom and pops can't survive those kinds of losses, said Sofos.

At Ward Warehouse, a few new retailers have moved in, including Menchie's Frozen Yogurt, The Growing Nest and Morgan Beret Fine Lingerie & Bed Linens (which moved from Kahala Mall). The WeePlay & Learn children's center also moved upstairs.

But papered up spaces now include Blue Ginger, which was featured in the Ward Centers January/February 2009 issue as a longtime business. Several other boutiques, including Attitude by Holzel, Le Lotus Bleu, The Place and a calendar shop are also gone.

Pictures Plus is expected to move into the corner spaces vacated by Le Lotus Bleu and The Place by April, though it will be half the size of what it occupies now at Ward Gateway.

Michael Cummins, co-owner of Honolulu Chocolate Co., which has been at Ward 22 years., is determined to stay.

“;We're seen times go up and down, but we're still here,”; said Cummins, who was filling pre-orders for chocolate-dipped Valentine's strawberries yesterday. “;The upside is, there's more parking now. I really do feel for everyone in these times, but chocolate is, I think, an affordable luxury, so people are still treating themselves to that.”;