Thursday, June 21, 2001

Aloha to both Macy’s
and Liberty House

The issue: Federated Department
Stores Inc. has bought Liberty House
and will place it in its Macy's West division.

HAWAII without Liberty House is almost as hard to imagine as Manhattan without Macy's. By Christmas, Liberty House's outlets will come under the Macy's banner, bringing together two department store chains with remarkably parallel traditions and travails. While the Liberty House moniker will be missed by island shoppers and some employees will be laid off, the merger seems to be a good fit and the future looks bright.

The life of Liberty House began with the arrival of Heinrich Hackfeld from Germany in 1849 with merchandise to open a waterfront general store. Three years later, another German, B.F. Ehlers, bought the store and named it after himself, while Hackfeld began providing various services to the sugar industry.

By the time World War I broke out, the store had reverted to H. Hackfeld & Co. Then U.S. government seized German assets across the country. The store and sugar-industry assets were bought by businessmen associated with other Big Five companies and patriotically renamed Liberty House and American Factors Ltd. Chicago-based JMB Realty Corp. bought Amfac in 1988.

In New York City, a Quaker named Rowland Hussey Macy opened his store nine years after Hackfeld set up shop in Honolulu. Within a decade, he is said to have been taking in thousands of dollars a day. Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the 1947 movie, "Miracle on 34th Street," brought the store nationwide prominence.

Macy's expansion into a national chain during the 1970s and the recession of the next decade landed the business in bankruptcy court. The downfall resulted in Macy's bondholders selling the store in 1994 to Federated Department Stores Inc., owner since 1930 of Bloomingdale's, one of Macy's longtime rivals.

Liberty House stumbled into bankruptcy court three years ago largely because of Hawaii's sagging economy of the 1990s. Federated has acquired Liberty House from the temporary holders of the assets and assigned it to Macy's West division, which carries similarly upscale merchandise. The merger brings an end to uncertainty about the future of the Hawaii stores and should result in stability as part of a national chain.

Liberty House and Macy's have been dissimilar in one respect. Ever since Hackfeld expanded his business to serve the sugar industry, Liberty House has not been owned by a primarily retailing company. A retailer with Macy's size and expertise can only benefit and secure the future of stores that are now called Liberty House.

City plans to root out
community garden

The issue: The community plots
at Foster Botanical Gardens may be
removed in a redesign plan, leaving
60 gardeners in the dirt.

In the big scheme of things, the city's proposal to eliminate the community garden plots at Foster Botanical Gardens would appear to be a trifling matter. Only the 60 people who plant flowers, herbs and vegetables there would be directly affected.

Another adverse result, however, would be the loss of the sense of community these gardens cultivate. In making a decision, city officials should consider the societal value of the garden in an increasingly urban atmosphere. It is one of the intangibles that adds to the quality of a city.

The first community garden opened in Makiki in 1965. Ten such gardens have bloomed across Oahu since then, all on land the city considers excess. Use was free until about six years ago when the city began charging a minimal 10 cents a square foot annually to pay for water.

As part of Foster Botanical Gardens' redesign, the community plots would be removed so that an orchid collection could be placed there. The city says the community gardeners would be able to apply for other plots in Makiki and Manoa, but they are not guaranteed space because of the high demand in those districts. Moreover, most of the gardeners are elderly and traveling from downtown to other locations could present problems.

Some of the gardeners plant vegetables and other foods to save on grocery bills, while others raise flowers. What all of them grow are friendships. The sites have become meeting places where people talk story about their families and share gardening secrets. As Honolulu's population increases and people become more anonymous and alienated, this kind of program is all the more important.

The city says that because the plots are on excess land, gardeners have always known that the plots could be eliminated if the city found other uses for them. What better use is there for excess land than to produce food and the pleasure of sharing?

Although the change may not be made for a few more years, the gardeners have already begun a campaign to save their plots. Good for them. If city officials don't take heed, they will be uprooting a precious crop that's needed to feed the soul of a community.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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