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Signs of Hope: Lāhainā Reopenings After the Wildfires

It’s been just over eight months since catastrophic fires tragically destroyed Maui’s historic Lāhainā town. In recent weeks, though, encouraging signs of life and hope have been popping up all over west Maui.

Māla Ocean Tavern

Although Māla Ocean Tavern remained standing at the north end of Lāhainā town after the wildfires, quite a few hurdles had to be cleared before it could operate again. Once the National Guard barricades ended; power, water, and sewer service had been restored; and the wind and smoke damage had been cleared, Māla reopened to the public on February 1, 2024, making it the first Front Street business to rise from the ashes.

Māla miraculously managed to retain almost all 60 of the employees who were on its payroll before August 8, 2023. Established in 2004 and a favorite of residents and visitors alike, the oceanfront restaurant is still focused on fresh local seafood and other locally sourced ingredients. With one exception — a sign requesting that patrons not ask staff about their fire experiences — Māla looks and feels just like it always did.

Aloha Mixed Plate

Just a couple of doors down from Māla on Front Street’s north end, Aloha Mixed Plate is right back where it started in 1996. After a traditional Hawaiian blessing, AMP had a soft opening on March 20, with a guest list that included displaced kupuna (seniors) and teachers from Lāhaināluna High School.

Aloha Mixed Plate welcomed the general public back as of March 21, offering lunch and dinner every day from 11 to 7. Serving up kalua pork, shoyu chicken, poke and other fresh fish, noodles, and excellent Mai Tais, this open-air restaurant with an incredible ocean and sunset view is sure to quickly pick up where it left off, as a beloved local gathering spot.

Old Lāhainā Lūʻau

Well-known as Maui’s most authentic lūʻau experience, the Old Lāhainā Lūʻau reopened its doors on March 12, following a Hawaiian blessing ceremony. Fittingly, its first post-fire event was a celebration marking the 60th anniversary of the Lāhainā Restoration Foundation.

The landmark Maui business, which originally opened in 1986, suffered smoke damage and wind damage (including the loss of several trees), and about 200 of their 400 employees lost their homes in the wildfires. In their first few months after reopening, they plan to donate a portion of their proceeds to local nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity.

Lāhainā Cannery Shopping Center

Lāhainā Cannery had just been renovated inside and out in 2023, which made it extra fortunate that it still stood after the fires. As of March 18, the public can experience it in its latest form, complete with new stores and businesses like CocoNene, KaiAloha Supply, and First Hawaiian Bank. Jersey Mike’s and new outdoor food truck options like Lahaina Sushi Ko and Lahaina Thai Ono are already operational, and the new indoor food court will open later this year.

The Cannery now also hosts free hula shows every Sunday from 1 to 2 p.m., free Hawaiian craft lessons every Wednesday afternoon from 2:30 to 3:30, and free hula lessons every Thursday from 2:30 to 3:30. And every Friday and Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., the Lāhainā Arts Society sets up shop to share a selection of paintings, photography, glass and ceramic art, wood carvings, and jewelry for sale.

Foodland Farms

I’ll admit that a grocery store opening might not always be noteworthy, but in this case, it’s a sign of normalcy that’s worth celebrating! As of April 10, the Lāhainā Gateway Center location of Foodland Farms began to serve west Maui again.

Although it sustained smoke damage, there was no structural damage to the building as a result of the wildfires. This staple of the community will be in operation from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, staffed by 43 employees who previously worked at both Foodland Farms Lāhainā and Foodland Lāhainā.

King Kamehameha III Elementary

Among the sad losses we experienced on August 8 was the 110-year-old King Kamehameha III Elementary School, near the banyan tree at the south end of Front Street. With the original campus damaged beyond repair, an alternative campus site was chosen within the future Pulelehua development, just below Kapalua Airport. In just 95 days, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a new school consisting of 30 air-conditioned modular classrooms, a library, a cafeteria, an administration building, a student support center, and play areas.

School staff gathered with federal, state, and local officials for a blessing of the campus on March 25. On April 1, parents and other members of the public cheered and held signs welcoming around 350 haumana (students) to their new school. As part of the transition, the main entrance gate from the Front Street campus was moved to the Pulelehua location, along with the bronze bust of King Kamehameha III that had been installed at the school to mark its 100th anniversary in 2013.

A Final Note: Mākaukau Maui

The Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority recently launched an initiative they’re calling “Mākaukau” (essentially meaning “ready and able”), to encourage economic recovery after Maui’s wildfire disaster. Their website is a great resource for more information about “reopening Maui with respect, responsibility, and compassion.”

Speaking of recovery and reopening, have you heard the new song “Hope in the Ashes,” from Maui-born singer-songwriter Lily Meola? It’s definitely worth a listen!

And as always, I’m here to answer your questions about what’s happening on Maui. Contact me any time!

Pamela Reader, Realtor Broker

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David Rose

April 18, 2024

Mahalo Pamela. It will be a long road, so nice to see progress. I love Mala, already been back three times.

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