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Bring back Wailuku.

Nancy Fushikoshi didn't want to be a Valley Girl. Fair enough, she likes to shop and paint her nails, and she lives in Maui's central valley. But mall life was not for her. "I didn't want to be monopolized by the mall," says Fushikoshi, who three years ago quit her job as a stylist in a Kahului mall's beauty salon to start her own business, Nancy's Hair Design, in Wailuku.

Fushikoshi is just one of many believers who have recently made the pilgrimage to Wailuku--although the town wasn't always the Jerusalem of small business. Five years ago, its dilapidated buildings and ghost-town demeanor sent both merchants and shoppers sprinting for nearby shopping centers. Worried about its ailing economy and not-even-second-best reputation, a few Wailuku business-people decided to get serious about repairing its image problem.

The result was the Wailuku Main Street Association, one of six such programs in the state. Begun in 1986, the group models itself after Main Street U.S.A., a national organization whose goal is to stimulate economic growth in small towns while preserving their history and culture. Main Street Wailuku began with $ 7,000 in private contributions from local businesses. Some volunteer organizations then pledged their allegiance by picking up litter, painting over graffiti-marred walls and buildings, and landscaping vacant lots. At the same time, Jocelyn Perreira, the association's executive director, took advantage of every possible opportunity to talk up Wailuku, telling business groups, service organizations, and schools how they could help out in the effort.

Wailuku was marketed, touted and finally noticed. Once-skeptical merchants began digging into their pockets to remodel, repaint and replace store signs. "What we created here was excitement and success, and that is contagious," says Perreira, a former assistant manager of Azeka Place in Kihei. Some changes have been statistically measurable: Crime rates in the town have dropped 10 percent over the last year, while the total number of businesses there grew from 300 in 1987 to 488 today. Last year alone, new business starts in Wailuku numbered 65, buildings rehabilitated totaled 41, and job positions rose by 351.

These days, the association -- which receives most of its $85,000 annual budget from a federal grant -- is working with businesses and governmental bodies to construct a municipal parking lot, open two swimming pools, reopen the U.S. Post Office and protect the historic Iao Theater. But for all its successes, rising rates for commercial space indicate that Wailuku may be getting a little too popular. According to Grant Howe of Monroe and Friedlander Inc. on Maui, rental rates for the town's commercial properties have increased from an average $ 1.05 per square foot in 1986 to about $ 1.88 per square foot today. The sales price of land for commercial property in Wailuku more than doubled over the last year and a half from $ 12.50 per square foot to an average of $ 28 per square foot. As a result, some long-time merchants are finding it harder to stay in business.

But organizers of Main Street Wailuku say they are working on a plan to protect the town's special ambience. "If we lose all our mom-and-pop stores and our less-than-perfect-looking buildings, we'll lose some of the flavor and character that is uniquely Wailuku," Perreira says.

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Title Annotation:Wailuku Main Street Association stimulates economic growth on Maui
Author:Ishikawa, Lisa
Publication:Hawaii Business
Date:May 1, 1991
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