Lee Cataluna: Tourism’s sprawl evident in everyday corners of Hawaii
A family with two kids, a boy and a girl, stood arguing — loudly — in the cereal aisle. The kids wanted Pop Tarts and couldn’t agree on a flavor.
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A family with two kids, a boy and a girl, stood arguing — loudly — in the cereal aisle. The kids wanted Pop Tarts and couldn’t agree on a flavor. Dad yelled that no way would they buy a box of each because they wouldn’t be here that long, and besides, look at those prices! Mom hesitated because she wasn’t sure whether there was a toaster at the house.
This bothered absolutely nobody, but it was yet another reminder that tourism has spread far into the everyday corners of local life. They’re grocery shopping in neighborhood stores to buy food for the vacation rentals they’re staying at next door. Of course they are. What’s the point of eating out when you’re renting a house that has a kitchen? In places where it used to be just the old-timers pushing carts on a weekday morning with an envelope full of coupons in their hands, angling for the cans of corned beef that are on special, now there are people with lots of questions about different items, people taking cellphone photos of fruit, people searching for familiar brands on the unfamiliar shelves of a Hawaii market that has long catered to Hawaii tastes.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and this is not teed up to be a complaint or lament, merely an observation of another way Hawaii is changing and how tourism is growing in numbers and in social impact but tourists aren’t spending as much money while they’re here.
Places like Sueoka’s in Koloa and the old Foodland at Ala Moana have seen sandy-legged, sunburned malihini customers for years. Even back in the ’70s, tourists would wander around the cement floor and narrow aisles of Sueoka marveling over fruit they had never seen before, poking at the trays of whole fish wrapped in plastic wrap and making jokes about poi while searching for familiar brands of pop. It’s no wonder Sueoka’s eventually morphed into an ABC store.
Other places, though, used to seem far outside of the tourism zone. Not like tourists weren’t welcome, but they just wouldn’t come, and that layer of showmanship and not-quite-authentic Hawaii-ness didn’t need to intrude on the vibe of a store that smelled of fish and overripe soursop.
This is happening all over, though, not just here. In remote places around the world, residents are finding strangers in strange places, eating at hyperlocal establishments, sleeping in local houses, buying stuff at markets that had long been providing for the needs of folks who live there, not necessarily for those just passing through.
The stores probably love it; capitalism loves an expanding consumer base, and there’s tripe and kulolo enough for everyone. What’s to complain about? But there is effort in welcoming strangers into town, letting down one’s guard, taking the time to explain stuff that seems obvious to those who live here. The burden of adjusting always seems to fall on the residents to make room and be nice.
Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or email@example.com.