Having A Blast At Ala Moana

As Ala Moana Center continues to grow and evolve with 260 shops and more than 70 food establishments, one thing remains the same — the Fourth of July means a huge fireworks show

Friday - July 01, 2005
By Alice Keesing
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Ba-boom. That’s the sky above Ala Moana on Monday night. There will be scrambling UFOs, space age comets, crackling palm trees and cheery Happy Faces — all part of the annual Ala Moana Center Fourth of July Fireworks.

For 14 years, Ala Moana Center has picked up the tab for the Independence Day show, which is the third largest in the nation. Nearly 2,000 fireworks don’t come cheap, and the price tag for the day’s festivities is in the six figures, but senior general manager Dwight Yoshimura has no problem signing off on the expense.

He and his staff call it their gift to the community.

“Fireworks shows have always been a tradition not only in the Islands, but also in our nation … so it’s a nice way, a nice gesture to share that type of festive feeling with people,” says Yoshimura, whose childhood in Kalihi gave him a good sense of the Isles’ fondness for pyrotechnics. “They say that the smoke comes from there,” he says, laughing.

The Ala Moana management team:
Left escalator, clockwise from bottom
left, Robyn Martin, Harold Kawasaki,
Linda Gabriel, Lena Molnar, Kyle
Fujimoto, Mike Kishimoto, Carl Razon,
Edwin Maeda, Dwight Yoshimura,
Steven Lai; right escalator, clockwise
from bottom left, Alison Heraclio, Alton
Higashi, Sharon James, Kay Day, Erica
Neves, Roxanne Murakami, Kristin
Kilburn, Donna Farrell, Cynthia Tanaka

The Fourth of July show is choreographed for the thousands of people who gather on the Ala Moana Center parking deck fronting Sears, but it’s also enjoyed by folks next door at Ward Centers and down the road on the beaches of Waikiki and bobbing around in boats offshore.

In all, it’s estimated that about 50,000 people will be looking skyward at 8:30 on Monday night.

“People look forward to it, not just visitors, but residents alike,” says state tourism liaison Marsha Weinert, adding, “What’s the Fourth of July without fireworks?”

The show is produced by California-based Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, one of the premier fireworks companies in the country. It has created shows for theme parks and cities across the country, as well as the Olympics, the Super Bowl and Disneyland.

Show producer Steve Souza promises that “the sky is just going to go baboom” on Monday night. It will be a brilliant display, he says, all choreographed to some rousing anthems and favorite local tunes.

The display has been six months in the planning and takes five days of onsite set-up with a full-time pyro crew of seven people.

In fact, the entire day, which includes live entertainment and music, is an undertaking of some magnitude.

“There are probably hundreds of people that are participating in pulling this off,” says Yoshimura, counting off the staff of General Growth Properties, Ala Moana’s parent company, along with city and state workers who coordinate bringing the festivities together.

The fireworks show is just one way in which Ala Moana Center is a gathering place for Oahu. It is Hawaii’s mostvisited destination with locals and tourists — 42 million shoppers troop around the mall every year. It employs up to 8,000 people, and brings in a billion dollars in total annual sales.

Dwight Yoshimura: Change is
coming to Ala Moana

Yoshimura likens the mall to a “little city within a city … A lot of it is just trying to create that synergy of a community place, a sense of place where people can gather, they can shop, they can dine and they can enjoy themselves,” says the former state representative.

The center has changed a lot since Yoshimura started his career there 32 years ago as manager of Honolulu Sporting Goods.

Over the years, Ala Moana has become “three-dimensional,” he says.

“That’s not only physically because we have four levels of shopping, but you also have a greater dimension of retailers from the high-end from Louis Vuitton including the department stores. And you have a lot of local merchants, mom and pops, that would cater to a whole wide range of customer today versus what it was originally,” he says. “It started off as a local center; now it’s a world center.”

With 260 stores and more than 70 dining venues, Ala Moana already is the world’s largest openair mall, and it’s growing even more with the latest expansions.

The next additions will be giant bookseller Barnes & Noble and a full-line Nordstrom store.

Barnes & Noble will be on the street level of the old J.C. Penney and is expected to open in November. It will stock close to 200,000 book, music, DVD and magazine titles and will foster a stay-and-browse atmosphere with Wi-Fi service and a café serving Starbucks.

In early 2007, Hawaii’s first full-line Nordstrom store will open at the mall. And a new Ho‘okipa Terrace will open later this year with four new restaurants including Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Islands Fine Burgers and Drinks.

Yoshimura isn’t saying what else is in the future for the mall, but after Nordstrom, “who knows?” he says. “Change is always inevitable.”

As inevitable as fireworks on the Fourth of July.

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