The community of Waimanalo held an open-air market and concert yesterday at the Waimanalo Polo Field to bring back tourists to the area after the Makapuu road closure. Sarah Yi struck a graceful pose in the open-air market. Her parents have a Waimanalo business called "Hawaiian Itties Bitties" and a booth in the market. The festival continues today.

Waimanalo stores
upbeat as fair draws
modest crowds

The turnout is less than expected
after the highway reopens

By Leila Fujimori

A craft fair and concert designed to bring customers back to Waimanalo businesses did not attract throngs of free-spending shoppers yesterday. But vendors said they welcomed any increase in business after a three-week dry spell caused by a closed Kalanianaole Highway.

"The turnout wasn't the best, but I talked to all the vendors, and they all made money," said Andrew Jamilla, president of Waimanalo Construction Coalition, one of the event's sponsors.

Few people sat on the large Honolulu Polo Club field under sunny skies to enjoy the live entertainment on stage at the "Rock Waimanalo" event, which continues today.

Waimanalo businesses dependent on visitors were severely hurt from the lack of customer flow from the East Honolulu direction after a rockslide led to the three-week closure of Kalanianaole Highway at Makapuu.

Starting on Nov. 6, the state closed the highway during the day as it worked on making the ridge more safe for traffic on the roadway below.

After opening the highway on Wednesday, it was shut again on Thursday when heavy rain caused large rocks to fall across the highway. It was reopened on Friday.

Cissy Oamilda, who had been selling her handmade Hawaiian crafts along the highway, said, "It was so frustrating because I want to go out on the highway, but no sense."

Oamilda was one of about 20 vendors who set up booths yesterday featuring arts and crafts, food, plants, produce and other merchandise. Vendors weren't charged a fee, which kept prices low.

"I didn't know it was going to be so good," Oamilda said, adding she now had money to buy her grandchildren Christmas presents.

This weekend's event was planned by Waimanalo businesses and supported by the city which provided $3,000 for portable toilets and entertainment.

"The first booth we came to, we already bought something," said Heidi Ugaz-Stein, a visitor from Vancouver, Canada, who purchased two shell turtles from Oamilda.

Manuel Menendez III, executive director of the city's Office of Economic Development, said the low turnout was due to the University of Hawaii football game and another craft fair at the Blaisdell.

The opening of Kalanianaole Highway at Makapuu allowed visitors to continue the scenic route past Hanauma Bay and the Halona Blow Hole to Waimanalo.

Two visiting couples from California and Colorado staying in Hawaii Kai swam with sting rays at Sea Life Park, then headed for the polo field.

"I think a lot of people thought the road was closed," said Gary Almas of Newport Beach, Calif.

Some other Waimanalo businesses saw improvement yesterday, but were not back to normal.

"It's 40 percent better than the last three weeks, but it hasn't returned quite to normal because people are afraid to drive around the island," said Keith Ward, owner of Keneke's Plate Lunch & BBQ. "Who wants to take a chance driving over here?"

For Waimanalo residents like Paul Kahele, a firefighter who works at the Hawaii Kai station, the opening has made life easier.

"It's great," he said. "It's a lot of humbug when you gotta go all the way around and you work right there."

Tentative plans for similar events have been made for the next two weekends.

E-mail to City Desk


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