The iconic farmers market in Kailua Village will suspend operations March 29, and tenants are unsure of their future.
West Hawaii Today obtained a letter sent to vendors from the management group JLL that states Hawaii County informed the company that an easement that runs through the property does not allow any temporary or permanent structures — therefore, they need to reformat the farmers market located across Alii Drive from Hale Halawai.
The letter goes on to inform tenants that all merchandise, tents and fixtures must be completely removed from the premises by March 31.
However, Denise Laitinen, spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, said none of the responsible divisions notified the management group of easement violations.
Joe Longley, assistant property manager for JLL, a worldwide real estate service, said the area is going to be remapped, and upgrades will be undertaken to make the space more inviting. He estimates the upgrade will take about a month.
He said he hopes all of the approximately 40 vendors will return once they are up and running — however the letter to tenants states, “Those that are invited to return to the market will be sent an invitation.”
To be considered, vendors must be current with their rent and certificate of insurance.
Vendors West Hawaii Today spoke to on Friday did not want their names used for fear of retribution. They said March 29 is the last day the farmers market popular to visitors and residents alike will be operational.
The vendors said that they were told that once the market reopens Wednesday through Sunday, they will only have 10-by-10 pop-up tents and everything, including tents and merchandise must be removed Sunday evening and reset up on Wednesday morning.
“We will only be allowed to stock our stalls on Wednesday,” said one vendor. “I don’t know how we are going to do it.”
Vendors were also informed that the shade cloths used will no longer be permitted.
There was concern from produce vendors that the white pop-up tents without shade cloth will become unbearably hot in the summer.
“It gets really hot down here. Everything is going to spoil,” said one vendor.
Although new rent prices have not been shared with the vendors, many are afraid they will not be able to afford to stay in business. Rent will be based on how many tents they use.
The property is owned by Kailua Kona Village Development Group and the market was created by the late owner “Uncle” Billy Kimi Sr., who also owned the Kona Inn Shopping Village and Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel.
“This was Uncle Billy’s vision for small business people to make a living and not have to be part of the corporate world,” said a vendor who has occupied a space for the more than a decade.
Longley, with the management group, said the vendors are very understanding and excited about the upgrade, but one vendor told West Hawaii Today there was a lot of fear and apprehension at the meeting management held with them.
“This is not the time to be doing this. The farmers market is so important to our community. Farmers need a place to bring their produce,” a vendor said.
Longley said they hope to have the new improved market up and running within a month of closure, but could not commit to a day, or what the footprint will look like.
“It sounds like someone is pulling the wool over our eyes,” said a vendor. “It brings tears to my eyes to think of what they will do here. This was Uncle Billy’s baby.”
“We were told this is all the county’s doing. This is our source of income. How am I going to feed my family?” asked another.
Many vendors were concerned about their future and how they could conduct business within the 100-square-foot space.
“Our farmers market is in peril,” said one vendor. “We are just waiting to see what happens.”