Loving Liliha

How Small Businesses Can Revive Their Neighborhoods

Loving Liliha

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It’s late afternoon in Liliha and minutes are ticking by on the new town clock high above Finance Factors at the crossroads of North Kuakini and Liliha streets. Schoolchildren and early diners squeeze onto stools at Liliha Bakery for $4 hamburgers, hot cakes and saimin.

A few doors away, wobbly orange crinkle fencing shelters new shrubbery and a modest fountain outside the new Longs/CVS Pharmacy. “Look,” exclaims Rep. Corinne Ching, pointing as an older gentleman in rubber slippers rounds the corner, tugged along by a puppy on a leash. “It’s a sign.”

The man walking his dog is just one more sign of a revitalized neighborhood, which happened because a handful of business and community leaders began taking important steps a few years ago. They organized cleanups, created safe activities for families, fostered new pride – and, in the process, created a blueprint for other Hawaii communities that want to revitalize and reinvent themselves.

“We want to make it hip enough for the young people,” says Ching. “It ’s a perfect place for cafes. So we’re cleaning up the community to keep our old businesses thriving and bring in the new. … Business is the life-blood and key to revitalization.”

Drive mauka from downtown Honolulu, turn left in the middle of Nuuanu and you’ll end up in Liliha, maybe on a meandering street where cottages crowd each other two and three to a lot, and a whole new generation of kids is growing up back in Liliha with their parents, and grandma and grandpa, too.

Here are eight steps that Liliha took, and continues to take, that point the way for other neighborhoods:

State Rep. Corinne Ching is flanked by Pastor George I, left, and Steven
Teruya of Finance Factors at the corner of Liliha and North Kuakini
streets, a focal point of revitalization in the Liliha neighborhood.
Photo: Kevin Blitz

1 Create a vision and find a leader

Ching, a Republican, is the firebrand behind Liliha’s revitalization. It’s the neighborhood where she grew up and the place she represents in the state Legislature. She dreams of new businesses, and knows that cleaning up the neighborhood is the first step to attracting those businesses. So she organizes volunteers to pull weeds and pick up trash.

“What do successful communities have?” Ching asked herself. “They’re clean. They have plants. And they have vibrant places to go that provide a sense of identity.”

She helped rebuild community pride by emphasizing the area’s rich cultural history. Liliha includes sacred Hawaiian lands and historic burial places, including the Royal Mausoleum. Ancient battles raged here and Liliha herself, a fiery Hawaiian chiefess, stood between the churches she protected and the wrath of her queen. This is also where the menehune are said to have made their home.

To build pride, Ching dug into her own pocket to produce a free calendar of Liliha scenes taken by a friend, National Geographic photographer Paul Chesley.

2 Build a core group

New businesses, including Finance Factors and Longs/CVS Pharmacy, and a refurbished Liliha Bakery have helped the rejuvenation. Longs installed a small, tasteful fountain in front of its new store (designer and area retailer Mary Philpotts offered free advice) and Finance Factors added its large town clock across the street.

Steven Teruya, president and COO of Finance Factors, says reaching out to the community, and then keeping the community in the loop on plans, is important for any business entering a neighborhood.

“I met with the neighborhood board early in the process and showed them all the renderings of the building,” says Teruya. “Anyone going into an area that’s trying to revitalize should meet with the district’s representative. For us, Rep. Ching was instrumental in providing input about the vision for that whole area. Because we had delays, we kept her up-to-date and also followed up with the neighborhood board, so they felt like part of the process.”

Finance Factors remains involved; for instance, it is a principal sponsor of the annual “I Love Liliha Town Festival.”

Teruya suggests that any area hoping to revitalize should start by creating or strengthening the local business association. He points to the strength of the Kaimuki Business and Professional Association, which coordinates efforts and helps create a small town atmosphere there.

“The people volunteering for projects are going to be the owners, family and friends – people with a stake in the community,” Teruya says.

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