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Increasing Island Food Storage

With growing concerns on Molokai about food security, Friendly Market Center (FMC) is taking a big step to enhance their food storage capabilities. The Kaunakakai grocery store plans to build a 7,544-square-foot warehouse that will more than double the business’ current chill storage capacity for perishable items, according to co-owner Jeff Egusa. The warehouse will offer a buffer in case the barge cannot deliver on its current twice-weekly schedule, and could also mean cheaper food for Molokai shoppers, Egusa said.

The warehouse will include 4,495 square feet of storage space, as well as a loading dock, small office for warehouse workers and a 13-space parking lot. The facility will be located in the currently vacant 19,182-square-foot lot next to Atlas Hardware on Alohi Street across from FMC’s current warehouse and storefront. The property was purchased by the Egusas in 2005.

Egusa said no start date for construction has yet been set, but once the project begins, it can be completed in three to four months.

Meeting a Need
Egusa said when barge company Young Brothers (YB) first discussed reducing deliveries to Molokai in 2006, it got him thinking about the need to increase storage space.

“We barely have enough space to house food until the following barge as it is,” said Egusa.

While YB continues to dock on the island twice a week, Molokai businesswoman Barbara Haliniak said it’s possible that that could change at any time. If the barge schedule changed, it would create a huge hardship for both businesses and consumers, who would find shelves empty between deliveries, she said in her testimony in favor of FMC’s warehouse at last week’s Molokai Planning Commission meeting.

“Lack of storage affects not only [FMC] needs, but community needs too,” said Haliniak.

East end kupuna Judy Caparida agreed.

“This community is growing and we need space for our food,” she said. “Friendly Market and Misaki’s… hold the whole island together.”

Several other residents, including County Councilwoman Stacy Crivello, also spoke in favor of the project.

Some, like Bill Feeter, testified that FMC’s proposed warehouse will fill a need for disaster preparation on the island.

“It is essential that we have place to store food in case of emergency,” said Feeter. “As individuals, we all need this project.”

Egusa is just as concerned about ease of everyday operations that the additional warehouse will provide. He said the new space will be used for dry goods storage, while the current warehouse space connected to the storefront will be transformed to increase refrigeration capacity for chilled items. That’s an area the business is currently sorely lacking, he said.

“As it is now, I can’t keep enough cold beer,” chuckled Egusa. “[People say] ‘I want it cold and I want it now’ — and that’s just something I cannot do right now.”

The added space will also allow FMC staff to order larger quantities of bulk goods on sale — a savings they’ll be able to pass on to customers, according to Egusa.

A Matter of Design
It’s been a long road to getting the project approved at last Wednesday’s Molokai Planning Commission (MoPC) meeting. The four-year journey included a denial of the project’s design by the county Planning Department because it did not meet County Town Business (CTB) District design guidelines that regulate the appearance of buildings in Kaunakakai. Maui County Planner Ben Sticka said the project’s noncompliance was in part because the proposed metal siding is not an approved building material, according to the county Urban Design Review Board’s decision.

Project consultant Luigi Manera said metal siding is significantly less expensive than the concrete construction that would fall within the CTB specifications. The project is currently valued at $400,000, according to the county application.

“The urban review board spent a lot of time… [worrying] about a road that no one drives on,” said MoPC Chair John Sprinzel. “I’m very puzzled – if you walk around, there’s nothing but warehouses [in the area.]”

Community member Frances Feeter agreed, saying the board’s decision was likely made without an understanding of the needs and character of the Molokai community.

MoPC commissioners overturned the Planning Department’s denial, as well as unanimously voted to grant both the county Special Use and Special Management Area Minor permits that give the green light for construction.

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