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Maui’s Evolving Demographics: Kahului Foodland and Kihei Safeway

October 7, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama

The discussions about what kind of society Maui did have, currently have, and will have are based on people – and how these people perceive Maui (and for their children, their children’s children). The perceptions of optimism (security for oneself, for one’s family, and of course, happiness) contribute to arriving on Maui, starting a business, enrolling children in schools, and creating a “home” (with enduring friends and exciting things to do every weekend) – and the reverse, the fear of the future, which leads to making the decision to depart Maui, a garage sale, giving left-over items to neighbors or Salvation Army, then taking a plane to a Mainland city without local income tax, no Excise Tax, cheaper milk and beef and electricity and gas, and much lower real estate costs – but there’s no Kamaole Sands beach, no Maui magical moments.

During the last year I have been going to several supermarkets, and the two that offers the most symbolic contrasts to Maui’s demographics (and future) are the Kahului Foodland (near Queen Ka’ahumanu Shopping Center and the Kahului Library) and the Kihei Safeway in sunny south Maui. In many ways, these two stores reveal how people in village-like communities shop, cook, entertain, interact with each other or not, across an isthmus crossing Maui island: a distance of barely 10 miles.

Kahului/Wailuku contains many blue-collar families, many still union members, and in jobs linked to construction, roads, and products (paint, tiles, glass, cars, trucks, tools, gasoline, and agriculture). Some travel to work at shops and hotels in Kihei and Wailea, and beyond to Lahaina, Napili and Kapalua. Foodland offers a wider range of “ethnic” foods, like Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino and even an extensive Hispanic section (this gave me a clue to the growing Hispanic population). Spouse C. and I like the particular Koshihikari rice brand stocked there – among other rice varieties (each Asian ethnic group has its own rice), compared to a smaller selection at the Kihei Safeway.

There are vegetables used in Asian cooking like Japanese-style long white daikon, or a long, slender radish root, gobo or burdock, a particular variety of bok choy, and others – unknown at the Kihei store, plus various pig parts used in Filipino dishes (ah, such memories of my Kalihi-Palama childhood!). Also, there is a wide range of poki at the Foodland site (there is still freshly-made ahi poki; we had the ukupaku, the overlooked blue-green Hawaiian snapper (Aochibiki in Japanese), last night that we transformed into a light salad – and it was wonderful, very fresh).

Many families who shop at the Kahului Foodland are multi-generational, and have larger families – some rooted in homes from the late 1940s when Alexander & Baldwin opened up tracts for housing lots for Kahului’s “Dream City” – a real estate revolution of that period. Other families are recent immigrants from the Philippines, Tonga, and Central America. But for many "local" families, there are many brothers or cousins or nephews or nieces in Portland, Los Angeles, Seattle or the great mecca -- Las Vegas (with nearly 60,000 former Hawai'i residents) -- the allure of this Desert City is enormous.

The Kihei Safeway* is off the Piilani Highway and is one of several supermarkets in the Kihei area. It also draws shoppers from Maui Meadows, an earlier development with houses on larger lots, and Wailea’s condominium community. The Safeway is a huge cavernous building – and immediately there are several sections that are much bigger than at the Kahului store: the first is cheese (shoppers from the West Coast or Canada prefer many cheese varieties unknown to many Kahului Foodlanders), the second is a huge selection of yogurt (ditto), counters of every BBQ sauce ever made since the Neolithic Age (Kihei residents grill extensively, and we too have grown into grill aficionados), and a lot more wine, rows and rows of Chardonnays, Merlots, Rieslings. On the other hand, few Kihei Safeway shoppers would have any inkling how good a bowl of freshly-cooked Koshihikari rice would taste and find a gobo root a dirty strange large weed, not a crunchy vegetable in soups and stews.

There is a lot more frozen food, since many Kihei shoppers devote more time to paddle-boards and reading paperbacks at the pool or beach (the Kihei Library paperback collection looks bigger than the entire Library of Congress). Often there are extremes in ages – an elderly couple and surfers in their twenties would be in the same the check-out line (I have grown used to entire families in swimwear wandering around the air-conditioned aisles there – while many after-work shoppers at the Kahului Foodland are still in construction boots or hospital smocks).

Yet there are also those who have arrived from Montana or Tacoma who are working hard daily in jobs at Maui schools or Maui County or Four Seasons hotel, so it is a mistake to think of all Kihei residents as one-month condo vacationers (yet barely 20 years ago no one would have projected so many year-round residents in Kihei -- and this perception, again a perception that can have large consequences, is certainly a factor in the drawn-out Kihei High School planning).

There is no “one” Maui, not one exclusive resident profile, and how Maui evolves in the next decade and beyond can be seen analyzed in the product offerings in an annual audit at both supermarkets, one north, one south on the Maui isthmus, two stores on one small island with nearly 160,000 inhabitants.

*The Kihei Safeway has “automatic” computerized with techno-voice check-outs, which we are slowly gaining expertise, like what is the product number of a bunch of bananas?


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Blog Photos

A Japanese-variety Daikon.