Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, September 3, 1999

Getting gouged in paradise

EVERY time I see business reporter Rob Perez in the Star-Bulletin newsroom, my face involuntarily scrunches up. No offense, Rob.

Maybe he reminds me of the agony I've felt after reading his various consumer investigative reports, ranging from the revved-up cost of gasoline to the stomach-curdling price of milk in the islands.

What Price Paradise? I got so angry after his April 2 expose, "Got Milked?," I boycotted the dairy case for a month. Imagine, Hawaii retailers charging an average $5.44 per gallon, when it was at least $2 cheaper on the mainland. I almost had a cow.

This week's two-part series, "What Price Paradise?," though, really caused me consternation. Rob surveyed the costs of goods and services at well-known national chains in Honolulu, and compared them to their counterparts in three West Coast communities.

He found that some local retailers were hiking prices up to 200 percent higher than on the mainland. And all of this in a recession, yet. Sheesh.

Some of the results were especially troubling:

Bullet My favorite supermarket, Safeway, was charging $2.39 per pound for broccoli crowns in Hawaii, compared to 79 cents a pound in its Sacramento and Mill Valley stores.

Bullet My beloved Pizza Hut was selling a large veggie lover's pie for $19.99, compared to $14.99 in Sacramento and Seattle.

Bullet And good old Blockbuster was demanding $4.49 for a new video release that my kid brother in Seattle could rent for only $2.99.

Ouch, my aching pocketbook. It made me want to join the brains draining to the mainland.

But not all of the national chains hit Hawaii with such large price discrepancies. Stores like CompUSA, Old Navy and Kinko's charged for their goods and services in the islands just like they did on the West Coast.

And every volume shopper's favorite, Costco, had offerings only about 2 percent higher in Hawaii than in California.

OK, then, it was a mixed bag. So why did I feel so bad? Why did seeing Rob give me an awful tummy ache?

That's when I realized: It was guilt.

FOR years, I have fallen for the same lame excuse that things are more expensive here because of "shipping costs" and "the high price of doing business in Hawaii." So I shut up and mindlessly shelled out what was demanded.

And because I did that, along with thousands of other residents, island retailers have figured out that we are dumb and lazy.

We don't comparison shop. We pay these exorbitant prices. And we come back for more.

It's as if we wore signs on our backs saying, "Gouge me."

Which is apparently why I feel uncomfortable on seeing Rob. He reminds me of what a sucker I've been.

It's taking great restraint on my part not to run up to him, shake his shoulders and exclaim, "It's all my fault! The cost of goods and services in this too expensive place are out of control because I, as a consumer, have never made a big deal about how unhappy I am with these ridiculous prices. I have been too complacent.

"But your two-part series has made me realize the folly of my ways. I promise to repent and be a more discerning shopper from this day forward. Rob, can you ever forgive me?"

It will be harder to forgive myself.

What Price Paradise?

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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