ANAHOLA, Kauai — Three Native Hawaiian 20-somethings were standing in a large space at the Anahola Marketplace here — normally used as a restaurant — looking over dozens of pieces of gently-used high-end furniture.
They were trying to choose. From their conversation, it sounded like the two young women and a young man live on the Native Hawaiian homelands in Anahola.
One of the women was holding up an elegant chair with a padded seat. After a couple of seconds, she remarked to the others: “This will be mom’s chair.” Emphasis on “mom’s.”
It was as if they were in a luxury furniture store where they could buy anything they wanted. After a few minutes of further browsing, they settled on the chair, walked out with it and put it in their car.
They were a few among the dozens of people who took advantage recently of one of the most unusual garage sales in Kauai history made all the more unique because the items — from beds and heavy wooden TV cabinet-and-desks units, to chairs and tables — were all free.
Five 40-foot containers were required to move it all over six days. The last one arrived Wednesday and was reserved exclusively for Anahola residents, who lined up more than a half hour before its announced opening at 5:30 p.m.
The bounty grew out of a dilemma faced by Starwood Capital Group and East West Partners. Starwood is the owner of the former Princeville Resort, a luxury venue that originally opened in 1986 and known by various names over the years. Before Starwood bought the hotel last year, it had been operating as the St. Regis.
Even though the St. Regis had always promoted itself as an extremely high-end resort, Starwood shut down the entire property to remodel the hotel long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The renovations will transform it into an even more luxurious spa-like property called 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, now projected to open late next year.
General contractor East West is in charge of the renovations and among its first tasks was deciding what to do with all of the Princeville Resort’s furniture. Since hotels change hands and undergo full furniture replacement periodically, this is not a process previously unknown on Kauai. In fact, a couple of hotel liquidators in Lihue seem to base their business models on just this premise.
But Mark Hall, development director for East West, had a different idea. Why not donate as much of the furniture and fixtures as possible to local nonprofits?
More than that, why not donate the largest share of that merchandise to the Homestead Community Development Corp., which serves several thousand people who live on property owned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
The residents are scattered in multiple locations from Anahola, near the North Shore, and Kekaha, all the way on the west side of the island. The corporation is run by Robin Danner, a noted Native Hawaiian activist and developer.
Eventually, a daily convoy of shipping containers was dispatched from the hotel to various sites, laden with the entire contents of the 250-room hotel, as well as everything else in the complex. There were even three grand pianos.
One of those — a Yamaha baby grand — ended up at Kula Aupuni Niihau A Kahelelani Aloha charter school, better known as the KANAKA school, in Kekaha.
School director Hedy Sullivan said the school had lacked a piano since it opened in 1999.
“We’ve never had that instrument,” Sullivan said, “but, last month, here it came, delivered by piano movers.”
“The renovation team planned to ensure that, as much as possible, furniture and other items removed from the hotel would be reused or recycled,” Hall said. One factor, he said, was wanting to avoid burdening the county landfill with furniture that still had a lot of life left in it.
To make it work, East West turned to Re-use Hawaii, a Honolulu-based nonprofit that recycles all manner of building materials, fixtures and furniture.
Quinn Vittum, executive director of Re-use Hawaii, said the organization worked to identify potential recipients of the materials. Ultimately, it came up with a list of seven nonprofits and a few charter schools. Recipients included Women in Need, a women’s shelter; Halawai Ohana Hanalei; the Kauai Humane Society; and Storybook Theater of Kauai.
A couple of the nonprofits, including Habitat for Humanity, elected to resell the furniture they received as part of a broader fundraising strategy. At least one commercial liquidator is also involved.
“When we started, we wanted to figure out ways of supporting the community,” Vittum said. “We weren’t sure who needs furniture.”
Planning for the giveaway was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the process of emptying out the hotel started in April. Vittum said 18 Kauai residents were hired to actually move out all of the furnishings.
Homestead Community Housing Corp. saw an opportunity to help Native Hawaiian families in need of more and better home furnishings.
“We decided not to sell what we received because, among other reasons, COVID is so depressing, we figured families would like to have a shopping day,” Danner said.
Eventually, she said, several hundred people showed up to check out the goods and take what they needed.
At board meetings, Danner said, participants would often say “‘bedroom sets are so expensive,’ and the conversation would move onto their kids and grandkids. They needed beds and desks for kids and couches and chairs for the moms. A headboard makes anything look awesome.” There was a run on mini-fridges by teenagers.
The provenance of the furniture also meant something to the community.
As Danner put it: “Families would say, ‘We’re going to have an ottoman from the St. Regis.’”
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