So Long, International Market Place

By the end of January, Waikiki’s International Market Place will be demolished to make way for a three-story Saks Fifth Avenue Mall.

Like Hawaiian locals and travelers who have come to love this place, I felt immediate sadness and nostalgia after hearing about the impending closure. It was one of the favorite places I visited during my first trip to Hawaii in 2010. I had my first Hawaiian plate at their food court and purchased countless souvenirs and pasalubong from their shopping stalls.

This signage will be one of only two original things left of the Market Place once the demolition is completed. The other one is the famous banyan tree.

The first meal I ever had in Waikiki in 2010—a Hawaiian plate from Market Place’s food court.

The place’s maze-like structure provided backpackers and souvenir hoarders such as myself with countless things to do on a tight budget—from watching free Polynesian dance shows to sampling affordable local eats. Many first-world Yelp users have complained that the Market Place has become a shabbier and downgraded version of its original self, but I believe that’s what gave it a unique charm and identity.

The International Market Place was built in 1957. In its early years, it was a first-rate tourist attraction filled with gourmet shops, nightclubs and bazaars. In its latter years, it became a more rundown location for street performers, souvenir vendors, food stalls, and of course, its own branch of Hawaii’s omnipresent ABC Store (pictured here).
Kate was here—enjoying a colorful snow cone from their food court, circa 2010. Aloha and mahalo, Market Place.

There’s an online petition hoping to stop the demolition, but I’ve seen countless mom and pop restaurants, corner street bookstores, and independent small-scale shops lose this familiar battle to high-end corporations around the globe. It’s only in the movies where the rich actually lose and the owners of vintage shops get to perform a celebratory song-and-dance number as the credits roll in.

To pacify the public, the contractors have announced that they are keeping the 60-feet banyan tree, dubbed as the living, breathing soul of the International Market Place since day one, as well as the original Waikiki International Market Place signage. But that won’t stop tears from rolling and perhaps a few futile attempts—placards and all—to truly preserve this iconic site.