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Earth to Kapolei

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There’s not terribly much in the way of retail that Kapolei still lacks after significant additions to Oahu’s burgeoning "second city" in recent years.

Next year area residents can take vegetarian foods market off the list.

Down to Earth All Vegetarian Organic and Natural plans to open a store at Kapolei Commons next year.

Construction is expected to begin early next year and be finished later in the year. The store, which will include a deli, is expected to employ about 50 people.

The planned store would become the company’s sixth statewide and fourth on Oahu. At 10,000 square feet, the store also would be the biggest for the local chain established on Maui in 1977.

Mark Fergusson, Down to Earth’s chief executive, said the new store will be the company’s flagship given its size, which is 4,000 square feet bigger than the present flagship store in Moiliili. It is also being designed from the ground up, Fergusson said.

"It should be a very nice store," he said. "It’s going to be build-to-suit."

Down to Earth’s expansion follows a setback by its biggest rival, Whole Foods Market, which canceled plans for a flagship store at Ward Centers last year after an indefinite construction delay by the owner of the Kakaako retail complex, General Growth Properties.

Whole Foods, the nation’s largest natural and organic grocery chain, entered the Hawaii market in 2008 with a 28,000-square-foot store at Kahala Mall in East Honolulu. The chain expanded in February with a 26,366-square-foot store in Kahului, Maui.

A third Hawaii Whole Foods is slated to open in Kailua next year, and would be the biggest at 40,000 square feet.

Fergusson went on the offensive against Whole Foods with a plan to rebrand the kamaaina company, renovate existing stores and open new stores.

Down to Earth has been all-vegetarian since it was founded, but in 2007 added the wording "All Vegetarian Organic and Natural" to its name to emphasize that it sells no meat products, unlike Whole Foods.

Two years ago, Down to Earth remodeled its Moiliili store, and is slated to remodel its Kailua store later this year followed by a remodel and expansion of its Kahului store early next year.

Though a small store in Makawao on Maui was closed, Down to Earth opened a new store in Hilo last fall. The company’s other store is at Pearlridge Center.

Fergusson said the company had looked at opening a store in Kapolei for several years but wanted to be sure there would be enough residents and retail attractions to support a store.

The new store will be part of a second phase of Kapolei Commons announced last week, and will be near Price Busters at the center.

Other tenants with leases in the mall’s expansion area include Denny’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, Kua Aina, Regal Cinemas, Bank of Hawaii and Vitamin Shoppe. The bulk of the expansion will house outlet stores.

"We are extremely pleased to welcome Down to Earth to Kapolei Commons and share their vision to promote better health for local residents and visitors alike," Duncan MacNaughton, a principal with the mall’s development partnership, said in a statement.

Stephany Sofos, a local retail industry consultant, said much of Kapolei’s population fits a demographic favoring value retail establishments that Kapolei Commons largely has focused on with tenants such as Target, Ross, Price Busters, OfficeMax, Petco and Sports Authority. But she also believes Down to Earth will do well.

"Everybody’s concerned about eating healthy," she said. "A lot of people are looking for different choices. Do I think they’ll do fine? Oh yeah, they’ll do fine."


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