Another original tenant at Ala Moana Center will soon disappear from the mall.
The Crack Seed Center is closing on May 28.
After more than 50 years of supplying 100 different types of local favorites such as li hing fruits, seeds, mochi crunch and other delectable snacks on the ground level in the state’s largest shopping center, the mom-and-pop’s operators have decided to give up the space and focus on expanding the website they’ve had for 12 years.
On the Web
Ted Li and wife Patricia, who purchased the store 20 years ago, recently found themselves at a crossroads: The store’s lease expires at the end of May. Li, 65, said his age was a factor in the decision to close shop, as were the soaring costs of overhead and shipping as the price of oil continues to skyrocket.
Li said that renewing a lease would’ve meant investing as much as $200,000 to $300,000 in renovations and at least five to 10 years of work for the couple, who are close to retirement.
"Only a few (original tenants) are still doing business in Ala Moana," he said. "A lot of local people are surprised we were able to survive for this long because operating in the center is very expensive."
Over the past decade, overall business costs have soared by 50 percent, he said.
"(Mainland retailers are) big, and they can weather the financial downturn," Li added. "Smaller guys like the local merchants, many of them cannot survive because they don’t have that much capital."
Representatives of Ala Moana Center wouldn’t comment on the closure or disclose how many original tenants are left at the increasingly mainlandlike mall.
Crack Seed Center on average sees about 400 customers a day. The store, which opened in 1959, has 15 full- and part-time employees and will likely retain two to three workers to run online operations, which generate 30 percent of revenue. That will save the business at least $30,000 a month in overhead costs, Li said.
The changing face of the mall is inevitable as consumers demand new products, according to Carol Pregill, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii.
"The consumer drives retail," she said. "So retail evolves to meet the demands of the consumer, and the more exciting the marketplace, the better it is for the industry."
The changing mix of merchants at Ala Moana is bittersweet for many customers.
While customers are saddened by yet another local business closing shop, they also welcome the addition of national retail chains.
"It’s feeling more like a mainland mall, but I do want those (mainland) stores around so I can’t complain," said Mililani resident Tahiti Hernandez, 23. "I do like the mix of mainland and mom-and-pop (shops) so that way it feels like it is still a Hawaii mall. As long as they keep a couple of these around so that we do still feel like we’re at home, we should be OK."
Alabama resident Lili Gilbert has frequented the crack seed store every two years during her visits to Hawaii over the last 20 years.
Gilbert, who lived in Wahiawa in the 1980s, and her daughter, Alexandria, spent a combined $175 to stock up on the island snacks, which are rare on the mainland.
"Even though (Ala Moana) has all this stuff, I always go to the same (stores) I used to go to (years ago)," she said. "We don’t find stuff like this in the mainland where we’re at."