KEALAKEKUA — In the newly opened KTA Express, shoppers exude palpable excitement. A man entering the store exclaims unprompted, “New store opening? Good stuff!” flashing two thumbs up as he strolls through the store’s automatic sliding doors.
Customers are not just excited, but relieved, as for the first time since 2009, the Kealakekua area has its own grocery store.
The building was once home to Kamigaki Market, which closed nearly a decade ago. Since its closing, the closest grocery store options for the area’s residents were ChoiceMART in Captain Cook or KTA Super Stores in Keauhou.
The KTA Kealakekua Express opened at 6 a.m. Thursday.
“This has been a heaven-sent,” said Kona Coffee Villas resident Abraham Niihau.
“The biggest thing is the convenience, it’s right here,” he said. “I can save money on gas … I can go to the bank, do my stuff, then come here and be able to shop so I’m really enjoying it.”
The location will prove convenient for Holualoa resident Bob Archibald, whose main mode of transportation is biking.
“I thought it was going to just be express but you’ve got everything. We need a place like this. Where else is there?” said Archibald. “I don’t like going all the way down to Captain Cook on my bike so this works good for me.”
But people shopping at the store are not limited to residents from the area.
“I think the demographic they’ll get is from here and then also further south than here,” said Ocean View resident Mary Shields.
For Shields and others who commute to Kailua-Kona from South Kona, the Kealakekua store is an easy stop along the way.
“I think it’s beautiful, I think it’s the place to go,” said Shields.
Greetings and chitchat among community members on the store’s opening day suggest that the KTA Express will not only serve as a grocery store, but as a center of the community.
“I see this really becoming a hub,” said Abraham’s mother, Pam Niihau. “What it’s going to do for the community is awesome.”
Pam envisions it to be not just a place for people to shop, but an environment for students to work.
“The kids have an alternative to the fast food industry, to work while they’re going to school, to have money,” she said.
“I think it’s going to affect shopping local, competitive prices, and saving money… I think that’s what’s going to affect everyone’s life,” added Abraham.
KTA Express Kealakekua is KTA Supers Stores’ seventh store on the island, serving Hilo, South Kohala, North Kona, and now South Kona.
KTA Express hours are from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. until the grand opening on April 14, when hours will be extended from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.