Thursday, July 29, 1999

City & County of Honolulu

Neighbors want no
liquor at chapel

By Mary Adamski


Gloria Bridal Services offers more than the average wedding chapel at its Monsarrat Avenue compound with photo studio, bridal gown and tuxedo rentals, and dining rooms where catered wedding receptions can be staged.

The company wants to expand its package of available services by acquiring a liquor license, a prospect that has its neighbors in an uproar. Residents of the Kapahulu neighborhood plan to turn out for the Honolulu Liquor Commission hearing today armed with a petition against the license application.

"With a liquor license they don't have to have a wedding; they can sell (liquor) any time of the day," said Arthur Wong, whose home borders the chapel property.

"They're nice people; we get along. But when you serve liquor, it's not you, it's the people who drink who are the problem," said Wong, who experienced years of noise and traffic problems as a series of restaurants occupied the site after Mac's Market closed.

General Manager Yasuyuki Ishizuka said yesterday a liquor license would allow the business to sell champagne for wedding toasts. "We were never thinking to turn into a karaoke bar or a nightclub," he said, responding to opponents' speculation.

Champagne is now provided "free" because without a license, they cannot specifically charge for it. Ishizuka said people ask for beer and wine at a reception, but there has not been a demand for hard liquor.

"The company invested $5 million to create the facility. We need to make a return on the investment," he said. When Tokyo Produce Co. opened Gloria Garden Chapel and Bridal House in May 1996 to grab a share of the multimillion-dollar Japanese wedding market, officials said they anticipated about 1,200 weddings the next year. With the opening of other chapels and a downturn in Japanese tourism, business has been closer to 1,000 weddings per year, he said.

The wedding business has recently opened a Web site aiming to attract customers from other countries, the mainland and Hawaii, and changed its name to capitalize on its location and view. It's now Diamond Head Gloria Chapel. Ishizuka said German and Canadian couples have been recent customers, and the goal is to increase the non-Japanese share of weddings from 5 percent to 35 percent of the total.

He said only a third of the customers choose to have a reception, with the average crowd being 10 people. Unlike the typical hours-long island reception, tourists "only want to stay two hours maximum," he said. Even if the $480 kamaaina wedding price were to lure local couples, there's a 50-person capacity in the dining room.

He said the company has tried to communicate its limited plans for liquor sales to area residents, "but there are some people who don't want to hear us."

Speculation about the worst-case scenario has circulated since the company first applied in late 1997 for a Class 3 license, which would allow live entertainment. Opposition was aired at a lively community meeting at Waikiki School across the street from the chapel. The Diamond Head/Kapahulu/St. Louis Heights Neighborhood Board took a stand against it. But the Liquor Commission averted taking a vote when Gloria Chapel withdrew its application in January 1998.

"I believe they are not making it in the wedding business," said Stephen Williams, a Kaunaoa Street property owner. "I am a real estate broker; I believe this is a method for recouping the investment. I believe if you get a license, then two or three years out, having a license in place is the best way to make money on (sale of) the property."

Marguerite Ige of Kaunaoa Street said the neighborhood's displeasure predates the prospect of a liquor license. "They've turned our street into their parking lot," Ige said.

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