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Maui mayor maintains limit on hostess bars after attempt to raise cap


WAILUKU, Maui » Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa doesn’t want his county to have more than a dozen hostess bars.

Maui’s Liquor Control Commission voted in March to lift the cap, citing its support of "free enterprise" and the idea that hostess bar licenses should be open to everybody. But the mayor used his power to bypass the commission’s decision and keep the existing rule in place.

Hostess bars are businesses where employees serve alcohol while sitting with and entertaining patrons. The employees aren’t allowed to drink alcohol themselves. The county already has a dozen of them, all in Wai­luku and Kahu­lui. Similar bars are popular in Japan.

The mayor’s office received 10 to 12 letters against removing the cap, but Rod Antone, the county’s spokes­man, said the mayor stated his position even before receiving the letters. Letter writers alleged hostess bars drive families apart and promote sex trafficking. No one wrote the mayor in support of lifting the cap, Antone said.

"Mayor Arakawa felt that removing the hostess bar cap was not the right thing to do for the community," Antone told The Maui News.

Robert Tanaka, immediate past chairman of the Liquor Control Commission, whose members voted to lift the cap during Tanaka’s recent term, said he understood Ara­kawa’s decision.

Tanaka said the hostess bar licenses have become valuable, and when they are transferred it involves an "enormous amount of money."

He said the commission thought it wasn’t fair for those wanting to open a hostess bar to pay more than what an actual license is worth. A basic annual fee for this type of liquor license is $600, while Tanaka has heard of licenses being transferred for many times that amount.

Tanaka, a longtime periodic member of the commission, said removing the cap wouldn’t necessarily lead to a deluge of hostess bars and that "supply and demand" would regulate the numbers.

For example, Tanaka said that in the 1980s there was a limit of 50 liquor licenses in Lahaina. People were afraid that there would be more bars if there was no limit on liquor licenses in the old whaling town.

Like a hostess bar license today, a Lahaina liquor license was worth a lot of money.

But the limit has since been lifted, and there are only around 35 liquor licenses today in Lahaina, Tanaka said.

A Department of Liquor Control official said that over the years the department has received letters with requests to lift the cap on hostess bars. One person cited "commercial-free enterprise reasons" and Maui’s increase in population.

The 12-bar cap went into effect in the early 1990s.

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