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Old, exotic market in Honolulu can continue selling its fare.

Stall owners were worried. The venerable Oahu Market, an institution in Honolulu's Chinatown since 1904, was for sale.

At first glance, this grubby-looking structure with its rusting, corrugated iron roof and tattered gray awnings hardly seems worthy of concern, let alone a place on the National Register of Historic Places. But it is among the last of its kind in Hawaii, and stepping into its cool and airy interior bustling with early-morning shoppers is still an adventure in the exotic.

Here you can find sweet Kula onions, fresh lichees, and half a dozen different kinds of bananas. Local people come here to get the ingredients for lomi salmon, bags of gooey purplish poi, and varieties of seaweed so fresh they still smell like the ocean. Visitors looking for picnic supplies (nearby shops have bread and the like) will find fresh tuna sashimi, roasted duck and chicken, red chunks of char siu pork. At the corner of King and Kekaulike streets, the Oahu Market has been a favorite local institution since Anin Young opened it 80 years ago as a market for other immigrant Chinese fish and produce vendors. Even with its current landmark status, the building had no long-term protection, and concern mounted that its days as a specialized meat, fish, poultry, and produce market might be numbered.

Early last year, the city tried to purchase and restore the building but wasn't able to come up with the funds. There were rumors that a private party was interested in purchasing the market and turning it into a Waikiki-style tourist trap. Independent stall owners feared they would quickly be out on the street.

Drastic action was called for. According to Rebecca Choy Kehrwieder, whose family has had a stall in the market for four generations, there was only one real choice: "Buy the market."

The community mobilized to help. With the Historic Hawaii Foundation acting as a catalyst, consultants volunteering expertise, and the Bank of Hawaii lending support, 22 of 25 stall owners formed a corporation and bought the 9,695-square-foot building. They are now lining up $650,000 to bring the market up to code. "We want to restore the market as close as possible to the original," claims Kehrwieder. "With new plumbing and rewiring, some stabilization, and a new roof, it will be expensive, but worth it."

Restoration should begin early this year, but the market will still be open Mondays through Saturdays from about 6 A.M. to 3 or 4 P.M., and Sunday mornings. Early mornings are best for selection and activity. From Waikiki, take the number 2 bus to and from the market.
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Date:Jan 1, 1984
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