What’s Going to Happen to Nā Mea Hawai‘i When Ward Warehouse Gets Demolished?
As Ward Warehouse gets ready to close, the Hawaiian bookstore and cultural center makes the most of things.
Maile Meyer at Nā Mea.
Photos: Aaron K. Yoshino
With the impending closure of Ward Warehouse this August, most tenants in the aging, soon-to-be demolished shopping center are making plans to shut down or relocate their businesses. But Maile Meyer, owner of Nā Mea Hawai‘i/Native Books, the 27-year-old Hawaiian bookstore and cultural center at the far corner of Ward Warehouse (under The Old Spaghetti Factory), is expanding. For her, this moment provides an opportunity for growth.
Assorted products from Hello Makana.
Photo: David Croxford
“There’s so much empty space here, we don’t want [Ward Warehouse] to feel abandoned,” Meyer says. “This place may become a ghost town if they lose traffic. What we’re trying to do is make the whole place feel supported. I’m going to stay steady and reuse the space as widespread as possible.”
For almost three decades, Nā Mea Hawai‘i was known as an eclectic shop selling everything Hawaiian: books, clothing, artwork, food items. It also hosted daily workshops, art events, live performances and more. Now, as businesses begin moving out of Ward Warehouse, Nā Mea moves in—as four separate, standalone storefronts, each with its own products and objectives.
In Happy Hale‘iwa’s former spot, Native Books presents the Native Knowledge Center, which houses the organization’s substantial library of Hawaiian, rare and out-of-print books for sale. Across the parking lot is Hello Makana, a gift store featuring products by small-batch local producers. Every item tells a story and everything from coffees to jellies to embroidered hand towels to natural oils are perfect as omiyage when traveling to the Mainland or to put together in a box that the store will ship for you. (You can also sign up friends or relatives for a special monthly box of goodies with various curated items.) Nā Mea Hawai‘i itself has moved into the former Eden in Love location, selling clothing, home furnishings, décor and Hawaiian cultural items.
Native Knowledge Center.
In the organization’s original location, Meyer has divided up the 5,000 square feet of retail space and repurposed it as Aupuni Place, a mix of artists’ studios and community event space. “We moved everything out in early February, built out and opened Nā Mea Hawai‘i, Native Knowledge Center and Hello Makana on Feb. 11 and then spent the next week building Aupuni Place,” Meyer says. “The studios were all rented before we opened. We saved the front [studio] to make it a place for rotating and visiting artists, so it’s available for short-term rentals with daily, weekly and monthly rates. And every month there’s a new art show at the front.”
Spaces at Aupuni are available for $80 a day, $450 a week or $1,500 a month. Current tenants include Andrew Yamauchi, Eric Cyganik Morgan, Martin Holzgang, Mealaaloha Bishop and Nancy Lum, among others.
Meyer’s team moved into a few other areas of Ward Warehouse, including the former hair salon next door, to install pop-up contemporary art exhibitions. Their work is also inspiring others: Local art collective Paradise Cove is migrating into the former Kaypee Soh space to set up art, too. It’s a smart move to make good use of the space, at least until Ward Warehouse closes in August. After that, Meyer isn’t sure what will happen.
“Should I partner or license? Should I try to buy something? I’m going to spend the next month figuring it out,” Meyer says. “In the meantime, we’re booking events constantly in here so the community can have access to a good space with free parking, AC. The hope is we can figure it out after that.”