The trick, says Sharon Schneider, is to keep Kaimuki “cool and funky, but not scruffy.”

So some merchants are sprucing up the storefronts along the community’s Waialae Avenue business district — in some cases, beautifying those strips of land between sidewalks and curbs that belong to the city.

While permits are technically required for that kind of work, the city generally puts up with those efforts. And the projects are one more sign of community pride, says Schneider, chair of the Kaimuki Neighborhood Board.

Some Waialae business owners go out of their way to beautify their storefronts, including the work on this plot of city-owned land outside Lily Lotus Boutique. Annebelle Lejeune/Civil Beat

Tour buses frequently pass through this east Honolulu community, but they’re mainly stopping at red lights before rolling on.

Kaimuki “totally depends on local,” said Ron Irwin, owner of Indige Design.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to brand Kaimuki, give the community some pride and get the building owners to feel that this is a pleasant place to be,” Schneider said.

If storefronts need maintenance or repairs, she hopes to see property owners and community members take the necessary steps to get it done.

Irwin seems on board with that. He rents the property for his business at 3449 Waialae Ave. But rather than wait for the property owner to address the dirt that has accumulated on the walls, windows and doors, “I’m going to rent a power washer and just do it myself,” he said.

The high cost of renting or owning property in the area may be preventing other merchants from doing more with their property, Irwin said.

Still, several merchants have bypassed the need for permits to make their storefronts a little more appealing, Schneider said.

Planters and garden rocks were placed in front of Lily Lotus Boutique on the corner of Waialae and Koko Head avenues. Now the strip of land stands out against others that are little more than patches of weeds and dirt.

“It’s important to the owner that the store looks nice,” said Sarah Cloes, a Lily Lotus Boutique employee. “It’s part of my job to pick up the trash on the sidewalk in the morning. And people appreciate it, they like the way the store looks.”

According to the Department of Planning and Permitting, the street trees and small plots of land between sidewalks and curbs are city property, although adjacent landowners are responsible for general maintenance such as watering and plant upkeep.

Storefront owners who would like to add or renovate the street trees and lots are required to apply for a permit from the city. Some projects would require more than one permit.

Jawaiian Irie Jerk recently moved to the Waialae Avenue business strip. A mural invites customers in. Annebelle Lejeune/Civil Beat

But there are generally no repercussions for people who beautify these strips, said Curtis Lum, information officer for the Department of Planning and Permitting.

That doesn’t mean merchants are completely on their own. If the trees in the strips are neglected, the city’s Division of Urban Forestry should be contacted to possibly replant. Unless the department is notified, the lot is likely to remain as is, Lum said.

Business owners are looking for innovative ways to attract customers. Murals like the ones painted on the walls of the Mud Hen Water and the recently relocated Jawaiian Irie Jerk restaurants contrast with discoloring trees and splintering telephone posts at the storefronts.

The Envision Kaimuki program is one of Schneider’s efforts to beautify the neighborhood. Plans are in the works for building mini-parks in now-abandoned lots and promoting small business Saturdays.

“Younger people show up to the neighborhood board meetings, too,” Schneider said. “We’re getting to the point where people want this.”

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