Walmart originally planned to convert its Lihue, Kauai, store into Hawaii’s first Walmart Supercenter. Unfortunately for them, the Kauai County Council banned all “big box” stores shortly after the opening of the island’s first Costco warehouse. This ban blocks any new stores that go beyond 75,000 square feet. Walmart then said they would fight the ban by arguing that their permit from their original opening allowed them to expand. However, it seems that even this isn’t enough to get them permission to expand their store.
Earlier last week, the Kauai County Planning Commission met and agreed that Walmart did not have the ability to renovate its store into 185,000 square feet from its current 120,000. The new space would include a larger grocery area with more food items.
It is possible that Walmart can overturn the planning commission’s ruling by meeting their requirements. These requirements include conducting a traffic study that would examine how a larger Walmart would affect the roads and traffic conditions of the area. There are several residential neighborhoods surrounding Walmart, including several blocks of housing directly across from Walmart’s main entrance.
One worry is that if Walmart expands, the current intersection and road system would become far more clogged. Because Walmart is situated centrally within Lihue, the island’s main commerce and business district, an increase in traffic congestion in the area would have a large impact on the other businesses surrounding Walmart, including the island’s main hospital and airport.
Walmart argues that their original building permit allows them to expand, and the company’s Public Relations department assures Kauai’s residents that the company believes it will be successful in expanding. In a survey of the island’s residents, the majority supported a Walmart expansion, citing lower prices and more choices as the main reasons for wanting Walmart to expand.
What would this new Walmart have? Besides a larger produce section mentioned earlier in this article, the future Walmart Supercenter would house an eye and vision center, a photography studio and an auto section with a tire center. Such an expansion would be a direct response to the opening of Costco, which has become a popular shopping stop for Kauai residents.
Feelings in support of the Walmart Supercenter are strong. “I think it’s stupid that the county will not let Walmart expand,” says one island resident. “If they’re worried about traffic, they’re obviously blind to all the new resort and high-end housing neighborhoods that are going up all over the island and already clogging our roads. A bigger Walmart would add a negligible amount of traffic. If the county is serious about making Kauai a better place to live, they would focus on the housing and resort sector, not on limiting our consumer choices like some sort of Communist nation.”
Walmart’s plans to come to Kauai started back in 1992. Fifteen years later, its in the midst of growing pains. Whether or not it will be successful is yet to be seen.