LIHUE — Pastor Tom Iannucci of Breath of Life Christian Ministries says the Rice Shopping Center is not just an integral part of Lihue, it is part of the fabric that makes up Kauai.
“We’ve been part of it, and we’ve watched it grow,” said Iannucci, whose church has been part of the shopping center since 2000. “It’s a locally known place. As other places cycle out, this one has been here forever.”
Rice Shopping Center, which has been part of the Lihue community since 1973, is owned by Haupa Associates, a family-owned investment business.
Like Haupa Associates, the majority of tenants at the shopping center are local business owners, said William Powell, Rice Shopping Center leasing agent.
“I think you need a feeling of Kauai in Kauai,” Powell said. “How better are you able to do that than to use local residents who know the area, and they’re your neighbors?”
The shopping center is part of the forefront of the Lihue revitalization project, which aims to create pedestrian and bike lanes, additional parking, controlling traffic in parts of Lihue and increase more economic opportunities in area.
Powell said the plan to rework Rice Street may lead to further retail opportunities for the shopping center.
The Planning Department “offered that if we decided that we wanted to put some retail space along the front of Rice Street, they would work with us,” he said. “They would work with us to use part of the public parking to accommodate our need for additional parking.”
Those future potential locations would join the 17 tenants at the shopping center, including Rob’s Good Times Grill, a popular sports bar that’s been operating for almost a quarter of a century.
“I’ve enjoyed all of it, and I still enjoy it,” said owner Rob Silverman. “The local people are here all the time, and those are the people you want to support you. When the local people are happy and they talk to other people like visitors, that is key.”
A highlight of the shopping center is its diversified mix of businesses, Silverman said.
Silverman said the shopping center, as well as Rob’s, has seen quite a few changes over the years.
“We’ve evolved,” he said. “We started more like a karaoke bar and it was more of a nightclub thing and now people are coming it to the food.”
Another mainstay at the shopping center is Kauai Bowl, formerly Lihue Bowling Center. The bowling alley, which is the anchor tenant, has been at the mall for around 30 years, said Adam and Kelly Apo, owners of Kauai Bowl.
“Rice Shopping Center creates an opportunity for the smaller businesses to set up shop,” Adam said. “It gives locals somewhere to do besides the beach, (and the bowling alley) keeps the kids active with bowling.”
Businesses cycling in and out is a part of the shopping center’s evolution, and the Rice Shopping Center’s newest addition — Daddy O’s, a local-style restaurant that opened four months ago — is testament to that.
“I’ve been in a lot of shopping centers before and I’ve had some bad experiences, but I’m happy here,” said Harry Shigekane, owner Daddy O’s. “Everybody complements each other: We have Rob’s, that does a tremendous job, (and) a Vietnamese restaurant. It’s a nice mix for people. By having more food locations in one area, you’re going to draw more people.”
Shigekane, also a charter fisherman, said the Kauai residents are the bread-and-butter of the Rice Street location.
“If the local customers like what you’re doing and they come back, they’re the ones that’s gonna tell the tourists and everybody else,” he said.
Because of its central location, Iannucci said the shopping center is a good spot for the church to cater to people from all corners of the island.
“We get people who come from Southside, Westside, Eastside, not too many from the North,” he said. “They come in on Sunday and it’s easy to get in; easy to get out. There’s so many new additions to the Lihue area, they can come to church and do a lot of things afterwards.”