The lines snaking out the door at Matsumoto Shave Ice on a recent February day were longer than normal for the season.
While the popular Haleiwa stop serves 1,200 of the syrupy cones daily during the summer months, its tourist traffic is more variable during the winter season, when there is sometimes a lull in Oahu's visitor arrivals. But Stanley Matsumoto, son of Matsumoto Shave Ice founders Mamoru and Helen Matsumoto, said business has been booming since the soft opening of Kamehameha Schools' latest retail project, the 27,000-square-foot Haleiwa Store Lots.
The plantation-inspired retail, dining and cultural gathering place is only 60 percent complete, but already it has become a must-see stop in the historic North Shore beach town where 2.5 million tourists come through annually.
Matsumoto's is the anchor for the new $16 million project, which sits on 4 acres of the 26,000 acres of North Shore land owned by Kamehameha Schools.
Matsumoto's turned 64 years old in February and moved to an expanded location within the Haleiwa Store Lots. Now it and 11 other specialty shops of the 20-something planned for the development are attracting lots of tourists who are hungry for a bit of North Shore culture, niche retail items and cuisine.
Stanley Matsumoto said it's a far cry from the world his parents found themselves in when they added shave ice to their quiet country shop in the 1950s just to make ends meet.
"I remember my parents used to stay open late waiting for the theater to let out — that's how hard they were struggling. My dad used to borrow bread from the local supermarket, and in order to repay their kindness, he'd do their lawn with a hand-push mower," said Matsumoto, who was born and raised in Haleiwa and lives across the street from the development.
"We're so busy that we've got new challenges now. But my parents would be so happy to see this."
In addition to longtime North Shore staples, the project also has attracted several isle retailers who wanted a North Shore location but shied away from other opportunities because they lacked the project's mix of visitors and locals.
While not all local residents and businesses were in favor of changing quaint Haleiwa town, Kalani Fronda, Kamehameha Schools' asset manager, said the developers worked for well over a decade to ensure that the project encompassed Haleiwa's history and culture and kept to its small footprint.
"Kamehameha Schools began conceptualizing the project in the 1990s after leases on our land came back. This project has been in development since 2006," Fronda said. "We started by meeting with kupuna to see what they envisioned. For many years we leased our lands to the sugar plantation and collected rent. Now we're taking an active role in the community and making our lands more productive. The whole development should be open by June."
Hattie Nichols, who was born in 1931 and grew up in Haleiwa town, said she likes that Kamehameha Schools asks for community feedback and listens to local residents. But despite those efforts, Nichols said she's not sold on the project.
"It's nice, but it makes me think that I'm in the city. When I was growing up, I could stop in any store and they knew whose kid that I was. … It's not like the old style. Now there's too much of everything. It's overwhelming," Nichols said.
However, others say they welcome opportunities for businesses to tap into an underutilized tourist market and for residents to work where they live and have assurance that their children will have similar chances.
Lori Nahooikaika, deli manager for Whalers General Store and fruit stand, said the store's Jan. 10 opening also gave her the chance to work near home.
"This is the first store that we've opened in Haleiwa. We're normally in the biggest tourist industry spots, but with Matsumoto's helping us along, we're getting lots of customers," Nahooikaika said.
Ted Tsakiris, co-owner of Teddy's Bigger Burgers, said the development's emphasis on culture inspired the chain's first tiki bar-inspired Teddy's Bigger Burgers, which opened late February.
"We'd been approached by various North Shore locations for the better part of 15 years, but it never felt right before. This newest location broke the mold for us," said Tsakiris, who has been expanding his chain for 17 years. "The design guidelines irritated me at first, but they proved to be divine intervention."
Teddy's Bigger Burgers locations are generally known for their 1950s diner style. In Haleiwa, Tsakiris used reclaimed fencing from Don Ho's estate and from Hilton Hawaiian Village circa the 1950s. The counters, which sport tiki carvings from Gecko'z South Sea Arts, were made from repurposed flooring from Punahou School.
By mixing touches of older materials and local art, Tsakiris ensured that his Haleiwa location captured the spirit of a 1930s-era plantation town. The concept was so popular that just two days after opening, Tsakiris asked Susan Todani, director of development for Kamehameha Schools, to find him more space to open another business.
"We've had excellent traffic, and we might even be hitting some banner number," he said. "What really makes this work is its strong mix of visitors and locals."
Geoff Oamilda, store manager for T&C Surf Designs' first country store, said results are promising for the new location.
"This is our first store outside of a mall, but we're seeing strong numbers," he said.
Todani pinned results on the development's vision, which hinged on creating a friendly gathering place for locals and visitors. To that end, Kamehameha Schools worked to preserve some of the site's original buildings, including Matsumoto Shave Ice and the two Yoshida buildings, which were built in the early 1900s. Kamehameha also re-created two historic buildings formerly housing Aoki's Shave Ice and ‘Iwa Gallery.
"We tried to preserve the history and culture and keep the development small-scale, more like a string of mom-and-pops. We wanted our buildings to look like little shops that grew up over time," Todani said.
The local feel adds something to the tourism experience, said Montana visitor Josh McDonald.
"This is pretty awesome," said McDonald, who was planted on one of the development's benches. "Visitors want to be in a place where they can interact with the local community."
Kamehameha Schools invested $750,000 into the construction of a 650-foot walkway and added 95 parking stalls. Courtyards for entertainment and cultural classes also were constructed to make the site welcoming to patrons as well as to the many chickens roaming the country vista.
Prior to the project, Kamehameha Schools invested $13 million in North Shore agricultural water improvements and got 9,400 acres of North Shore land designated as an important agricultural area. Now Fronda said store lots are encouraged to use local farm produce.
Todani said cultural activities, similar to those at Royal Hawaiian Center, will educate people about the history and culture of Haleiwa and the North Shore. And proceeds from the site will help educate Hawaiian children, she said.
"Once fully opened, net profits from this development alone are expected to generate an additional $1 million (per year) for Kamehameha Schools' educational mission," Todani said.