When crowds rush to the malls for Black Friday and log on to Amazon for Cyber Monday, most of the small businesses in Kaimuki get left behind.

But this year, Kaimuki merchants are hoping to create their own buzz.

This Saturday the Kaimuki Business & Professional Association is teaming with EnVision Kaimuki, Ten Tomorrow, The Public Pet and 94.7 KUMU to host its first-ever Small Business Saturday event. Though some small businesses have participated in the Saturday event before, this year organizers say they are going big.

“Black Friday is all about being in the mall and being in high-commercial areas, but Saturday is a chance to claim that day for small businesses and let the consuming population know that there’s a lot more to shop for,” said Jordan Lee, co-founder and creative director of The Public Pet.

The Public Pet Founder and Creeative Director Jordan Lee shows off his animal leashes at the shop.
The Public Pet Founder and Creeative Director Jordan Lee organizes the pet leashes and collars made mostly from local vendors and brands. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The main thing is to combat big stores, so this is an effort to support small businesses,” said Mahlon Moore, president of KBPA.

Shoppers coming to the Kaimuki neighborhood will find an information booth at Kaimuki Park, food and drinks, local pop-up vendors, discounts and deals, shopping maps, prizes, music and even valet parking and shuttle services.

“Parking is the No. 1 issue in Kaimuki,” said Malone. “People come up here and they can’t find parking, so they leave. It’s easier to find parking at Ala Moana Mall and Ward Center.”

That’s why KBPA hired a valet company to provide parking at Liliuokalani School, Kaimuki High School and the Honolulu Board of Realtors lot. Each vehicle will be charged $3 for the day. To make shopping easier, a free trolley will make stops up and down Waialae Avenue from KokoHead Avenue to Kaimuki High School from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Surf n Hula ceramic collectibles and a 'maneki neko' on display in the shop.
Surf n Hula is a vintage collectibles shop on Waialae Avenue. On display are ceramic collectibles and a “maneki neko.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

American Express launched Small Business Saturdays in 2010. Any small business can register for free and American Express will send a support-small-shops kit including business advice, pins and stickers.

The credit card company aims to support small and local businesses nationwide, which benefits Kaimuki business owners who often cannot afford advertising outside of social media and word of mouth. 

“Kaimuki is very robust, there’s a lot of growth. The restaurant scene is unbelievable,” Malone said.

In Hawaii, there are nearly 126,000 small businesses, according to the Office of Advocacy’s Small Business Profiles. Small businesses are firms with less than 500 employees. In 2014, more than half of the state’s employees worked for small businesses.

In Kaimuki some businesses like Surf N Hula and The Public Pet are run by just a handful of employees.

When Lee and Summer Shiigi of Ten Tomorrow had a conversation on the streets in August, they decided to “activate the neighborhood.”

While Kaimuki resembled areas like Kakaako and Chinatown that are booming with small and local businesses, Lee thought Kaimuki lacked the full potential of neighborly interconnectedness.

That’s why Lee spearheaded the Keep It Kaimuki movement.

In addition to opening his own business with Matthew Guevara barely two years ago, Lee branded Keep It Kaimuki with T-shirts, totes and social media, #KeepItKaimuki. T-shirts can be purchased at The Public Pet, and totes can be purchased in about 15 locations around Kaimuki. For every tote purchased, $5 goes to Envision Kaimuki, which aims to beautify the neighborhood.

The Public Pet Founder and Creeative Director Jordan Lee at his shop with 'Keep it Kaimuki' shirt.
The Keep it Kaimuki shirt was created and sold by Jordan Lee for the Kaimuki community. He aimed to create a community connectedness where shoppers, business owners and visitors can enjoy. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Keep it Kaimuki “is an effort to get people to this side of Honolulu and see what this neighborhood has to offer. There’s something for everyone,” Lee said.

One conversation on the streets in August turned into Kaimuki’s Small Business Saturday event with 40 participating businesses.

“Kaimuki is very unique, it’s a very eclectic neighborhood made of all these small businesses. Together, we are stronger than just one business,” Lee said.

Lee lived in San Francisco for 10 years where he experienced a strong sense of community. He hoped to muster this feeling in Kaimuki when he opened The Public Pet.

Though Lee was born and raised in Mililani, he’s “always felt an affinity toward Kaimuki and the surrounding neighborhood.” It’s got the right mix of small businesses, suburban and urban vibes and charming buildings and people.

Supporting the small businesses of Kaimuki will not end on Saturday. Between Saturday and Dec. 3, shoppers who bring their Keep It Kaimuki tote bag into participating businesses can redeem discounts and deals. 

Island Brew Coffeehouse in Kaimuki is one of the shops that participated in Small Business Saturday last year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

This year is an opportunity for Kaimuki businesses to find what works and how to challenge the big stores and online shopping.

“We want to make it an annual event and even bigger than what we’re doing this year,” Malone said. “We hope small, independent businesses in Kaimuki see a big increase in sales and hopefully get some repeat customers.”

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