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Ala Moana Center is back in the light

By Dan Nakaso

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:49 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2010


Power was fully restored at Ala Moana Center yesterday, but retailers were still tallying the damage from lost Christmas sales at Hawaii's largest shopping center following three outages over three consecutive days.

Suzie Metivier, manager at the Reyn's store, was grateful to have electricity Monday morning, when an estimated 45 of her neighboring businesses were shuttered. But when Hawaiian Electric Co. repair efforts were set back by a short circuit at about 2:15 p.m. Monday, Metivier's business also went dark, costing nearly a day's worth of sales.

Yesterday she brought in extra employees to make sales in the dark to try to recoup lost revenue.

"It doesn't look like we're open, but we are," Metivier said hours before the lights came back on. "Customers complain that it's hot and we don't have lights. But we have to do something."

Before HECO restored power to 52 businesses at Ala Moana shortly after 2 p.m. yesterday, Francis Cofran, Ala Moana's general manager, held a news conference at the mall to reassure shoppers that most of the center's 290 stores were open.

"We just want the general public and the media to know that Ala Moana Center is open, despite the recent challenges we've had with the power outages," Cofran said.

At the Juicy Couture store for women and girls, four employees stood or sat in the dark for hours behind locked glass doors -- with no air conditioning -- until the power returned.

The Ala Moana Juicy Couture is one of the top revenue producers in the chain but had been unable to make a single sale since Monday afternoon's outage, said Chelsie Castillo, one of the store's managers.

Rain expected to dampen isles until Christmas

More rain is likely for President Barack Obama's Christmas homecoming after Air Force One touches down at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which is expected early this evening.

Cloudy skies and scattered showers will keep the islands damp into Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

There could be more sunshine by Christmas Day, but scattered showers are expected to hang around and cloudy skies will return on Sunday, the Weather Service said.

"The front to the north will keep us under the threat of wet conditions pretty much through Christmas," said Derek Wroe, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service. "It's unlikely that we'll have normal trade conditions until after Christmas."

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"We're just waiting for the lights to come back on," she said.

About 22 stores at the Waikele Premium Outlets and surrounding neighborhoods toward Waipio also lost power Monday for about two hours, beginning at 1:25 p.m.

HECO spokesman Darren Pai was unsure yesterday whether the disruption was rain-related.

Ala Moana's Cofran declined to comment on whether mall retailers would get discounted rents to compensate for lost sales.

Cofran did insist that the center's reputation remained intact despite all the disruptions.

"Ala Moana's a strong brand," he said.

But Shaunna Dilwith, an educational assistant at Waikele Elementary School, was not convinced.

She said she brings her family from Mililani to Ala Moana only once every year -- to buy Oakley sunglasses as a Christmas present for her 17-year-old son, Shane, a Mililani High School senior.

Yesterday Dilwith, Shane, his younger brother and sister, and their grandfather stood outside the darkened Oakley store considering where to spend their Christmas dollars.

"I'm disappointed -- very, very disappointed," Dilwith said. "I don't know if I'm going to come back."

FOUR SETS OF four-person HECO repair crews worked 24-hour shifts to restore service after Sunday's deluge of rain triggered a "flash over" at HECO's Makaloa substation. A fire at the substation knocked out power to Ala Moana Center, the Neal Blaisdell Center and nearby condominiums and businesses.

Following Sunday's fire, Ala Moana was running on a backup circuit, but that short-circuited at about 7:30 a.m. Monday, cutting off service to stores on both ends of the mall.

HECO crews used another backup circuit to return power at 1 p.m. Monday.

But the backup circuit also shorted out at about 2:15 p.m. Monday, shuttering stores such as Macy's, Shirokiya and the Apple Store on Ala Moana's Diamond Head end -- and also businesses on the Ewa end such as Sears and Longs.

Instead of trying to reroute power to another backup circuit, crews went to work in two manholes near the Makaloa substation and along Kapiolani Boulevard to repair the damage, Pai said.

HECO crews had to pump water from the saturated manholes, check the air quality inside for possible contamination and then stop work along busy Kapiolani Boulevard to comply with city requirements during the morning rush hour, Pai said.

By 10 p.m. Monday, power was restored to the Diamond Head side of Ala Moana Center. Some stores on the Ewa end, such as Longs, remained without service until just after 2 p.m. yesterday.

More rain is expected to continue through Christmas, according to the National Weather Service.

"Obviously we are keeping an eye on the weather. ... Our job is to keep the power on, keep the lights on," Pai said. "We are doing everything possible."

Mary Baker, a high school teacher from Winston-Salem, N.C., ventured into the darkened Reyn's store for some last-minute Christmas shopping yesterday and was surprised that stores were still without power after three days of outages.

Baker frequently visits Oahu and was here in December 2008 during President-elect Barack Obama's annual Christmas vacation when an outage cut off power across the entire island for more than 24 hours.

With Obama scheduled to touch down tonight to join his family in Kailua, "at a time when it's important for Hawaii to show how progressive it is, I'm very surprised about all of this," Baker said. "This island is so dependent on tourism, it seems like all forces should be front and center at a time like now."

ALTHOUGH SHOPPERS BEGAN pouring out of Ala Moana following Monday's two outages, it is unclear whether they spent their money at other Oahu malls.

Business was brisk at Pearlridge Center, but spokeswoman Deborah Sharkey could not directly link it to Ala Moana's power problems.

"In general, the season is gangbusters over last year," Sharkey said.

Monorail ridership at Pearlridge is up 11 percent, and visits to the mall's Santa are up 8 percent compared with last year, she said.

"We don't have any way to parse out any sort of benefit we might have found from anything happening at any other centers," Sharkey said. "Anecdotally, we could assume that if any shoppers found it inconvenient to be somewhere else, it only makes sense that they would come to Pearlridge."

Officials with Kahala Mall would not comment.

Windward Mall's general manager, Jonathan Kim, said, "Our mall is packed. Our parking lots are fully jammed. I would say we're doing a lot better than last year. I know definitely for Ala Moana it has to be a big impact because the stores are closed, but for here we're hopeful the people are coming to this mall -- people who might have gone to Ala Moana -- and because of the situation stayed on this side" of Oahu.

Sisters Trisha Kim and Joann Kadooka came to Ala Moana Center with their cousin Gayle Anbe and their four children yesterday even though they knew some stores were still dark.

Kadooka now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has not been back home to Honolulu for Christmas in three years. She was hoping to shop at Longs and the See's candy store yesterday.

Instead, both stores were without power.

So the women and children ventured down to the Makai Market Food Court and found its doors locked, too.

"I've been craving Hawaiian food," Kadooka said. "Now I'm just hoping for a place to sit down."

For all of their shopping hassles yesterday at Ala Moana, Kim did not blame the mall or HECO.

"It's the weather," Kim said. "You can't blame HECO. Things like this happen."

Star-Advertiser reporter Kristen Consillio contributed to this report.






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