Independence Day celebrated in Lahaina

LAHAINA – Thousands of tourists and Maui residents flooded Front Street on Thursday for food, entertainment and the island’s only Fourth of July fireworks display.

Festivities began at 4 p.m., when police closed Front Street from Papalaua to Hotel streets, allowing people to walk freely on the normally busy road.

The Maui Police Department had five traffic posts set up along Front Street, according to Lahaina Patrol District Commander Mollie Klingman.

Grammy Award-winning artist George Kahumoku Jr. played music at Lahaina Harbor, while the LahainaTown Action Committee provided hot dogs, kettle corn, music and games at Campbell Park.

At 8 p.m., the event ended with a 10-minute bang as fireworks funded by the Maui Chamber of Commerce blasted in the air about a mile from shore.

“We came down to the wire again,” chamber President Pamela Tumpap said of the display put on by Hawaii Pyrotechnics and Explosives. “This is a big day for everybody up and down Front Street.”

Tumpap and her organization were responsible for finding the funds to put on the fireworks display and raised about $50,000 in donations from businesses in Lahaina and other parts of Maui. The organization also received $10,000 from Maui County.

The event has been growing in popularity, she said.

“Bigger crowds are coming,” she said. “Many tourists say they chose to arrange their vacation to Maui before the Fourth of July . . . and what we always say is that this is the only area on Maui that has fireworks.”

The event was started by Theo Morrison, executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation and formerly of the LahainaTown Action Committee. It changed hands several times before falling in the chamber’s lap about five years ago.

“At that time (Morrison) said it needed a new home, so we’ve been doing it ever since,” Tumpap said.

The Lahaina groups continue to provide support and help the organization host the event, which Tumpap said is a difficult undertaking every year.

“It’s a challenge for us because it comes back-to-back with our annual golf tournament at The Dunes at Maui Lani,” she said of the chamber’s fundraiser in May. “We started funding in March, but a lot of the work begins when the golf tournament ends.

“Hopefully, (the fireworks display) will become something all the local businesses will put in their marketing budget year after year,” she said.

Businesses along the busy street reaped the benefits of the increased traffic, including Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.

“This is definitely the busiest day of the year,” said David Yamashiro, who owns the business with his wife, Ululani.

The shave ice business has four locations and a warehouse on Maui. It usually sells about 2,500 shave ices altogether on July 4, with about 1,500 coming from the Lahaina location.

“We make our own ice with a water purification system, but I had to scramble and go to the warehouse to pick up more ice so we have ample supply to cover today,” David Yamashiro said.

He said that the small shop typically has lines down the street when the fireworks show starts.

“It’s funny because people will wait in line for so long, when they finally get to the front, they’ll actually stand in line and watch the fireworks,” he said.

Kimo’s Restaurant, which stands right in front of the barge that holds the fireworks, also enjoyed one of its busiest days, and restaurant officials hoped to serve at least 700 diners before the night was through.

“We’re really proud of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, the LahainaTown Action Committee and especially the Maui Chamber of Commerce,” Assistant Manager Jack Starr said. “This is probably the busiest day for us.”

The restaurant hired more staff for the holiday, Starr said, and he added that he would like to see more businesses along Front Street donate money to help the chamber pull off the annual event.

Visitors from across the country participated in the festivities, including Annemarie Hale of Long Beach, Calif. She, her husband and two daughters were a part of a group of 10 people visiting Maui, with many of them on the island for the first time.

“We’re just a bunch of college friends celebrating our 40th birthdays,” she said of their weeklong planned trip. “It’s been awesome. We’ve had a fabulous time, and it’s only our first day.”

Hale said members of her group were trying to find a restaurant that wasn’t crowded.

“Cheeseburger in Paradise has an hour and a half wait,” she said.

Pukalani resident Rhonda Hirata and her daughter Reagan, 1, also participated in Thursday’s event with about a dozen friends and family members.

“This is the first time bringing her out here,” Hirata said of her daughter. “We’re happy we still have fireworks. They should bring them back to War Memorial.”

Hirata said that while growing up she used to watch fireworks at the Wailuku complex.

“We would lay our towels out and watch them shoot up above the stadium,” she said. “It would be nice if they had them there again so we wouldn’t have to drive all the way out here.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at