By Léo Azambuja
It’s official. Ross Dress for Less will open a store at Kukui Grove Center.
“Ross is coming to Kaua‘i. They’re going to be located right across from Sports Authority at the former Sears space,” Kukui Grove Center General Manager Wade Lord said at a press conference Thursday at the Lihu‘e mall.
The popular clothing outlet now joins Sports Authority and Pier 1 Imports as the newest anchor stores to move into Kukui Grove in the near future.
Pier 1, which will occupy the space that once housed Borders Books and Music, is scheduled to open in the first or second week of May. Then later in the month, Sports Authority is supposed to open where Sears used to sell electronics. Lord said Ross will likely open in the fall.
The press conference attracted many news outlets, and was attended by several public figures, including Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., county Office of Economic Development Director George Costa, Governor’s Liaison Wanda Shibata and Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce President Randy Francisco.
Carvalho said it was a “great day.” A former professional football player, he was especially enthusiastic about the new sports outlet.
“We’re a sports-oriented community,” said Carvalho, adding he would shop at Sports Authority while his wife would go to Ross. “What a wonderful combination here.”
The bottom line, he said, is the economy is bouncing back and there are positive things happening in Lihu‘e with the new opportunities.
Lord said of the original six anchor tenants at Kukui Grove when it opened 33 years ago, only Longs remains. And Longs, he said, was acquired by CVS in 2008, and only kept its name because of the “great brand” it developed in the state of Hawai‘i.
“In retail, change is the only constant,” Lord said. “Retailers must make critical decisions at light speed if they’re going to make or break their business models.”
Lord’s announcement Thursday comes on the heels of three consecutive years of 3 percent rise in overall sales, bringing the numbers back to pre-recession sales. In 2013 alone, he said, tenant sales exceeded $100 million. But because of increasing costs, sales volumes still have to increase in order to match pre-recession profitability, according to Lord.
He said years ago a consulting firm showed that Ross beat by a wide margin any other clothing store that the community wanted to see on Kaua‘i. However, talks with Ross for a potential lease back in 2007 fell apart after the economy started going south, according to Lord.
If anything, the current numbers indicate Kukui Grove is following the economic recovery. Lord said in 2013, the mall signed new leases with Sports Authority, Pier 1, Haleakala Solar, America’s Mattress and Taco del Mar. In the last 12 months, nine tenants renewed their leases, and another six are looking to do the same this year.
An added bonus is job creation. This weekend, 16 mall tenants will hold a job fair looking to hire 200 employees. Just Pier 1 alone is looking for about 25 employees, according to Lord.
“We hope you’ll take time this weekend to see what our tenants are offering for employment packages,” he said.
The job fair will be held Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m at the Food Court. There will be mini workshops and more than $500 in door prizes during the two-day event.
“Kukui Grove is so much more than a shopping center; we are a reflection of the local community,” Lord said. “Our community comes here to buy fashion, accessories and everyday needs. It’s where we raise funds for the needy. Our musicians play their music here, our keiki perform here, our kupuna meet here, some even exercise here, so our team is especially proud of that small but important role that we play in our community.”
Call Jonell Kaohelaulii at (808) 977-8676 for more information on the job fair, or visit www.kukuigrovecenter.com for information on other events at the mall.