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A place of their own: Island Naturals plans new flagship store near Wailoa park

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald People wait to enter Island Naturals in Hilo on Thursday, April 22, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A sign gives notice of an SMA use permit application for the lot adjacent to Waiakea Villas on Kekuanaoa Street in Hilo.

Big Island grocery chain Island Naturals intends to open a new flagship store in Hilo within the next few years.

Island Naturals founder Russell Ruderman said Thursday he wants to build a retail center that will be at least 67,000-square-feet near Wailoa State Recreation Area that will include a new store location, space for several other businesses, and possibly office space.

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Ruderman said the franchise will move out of its current Hilo Shopping Center location once the new store opens. He also operates stores in Pahoa and Kailua-Kona.

“There’s something to be said about owning our own place,” Ruderman said, explaining that the new location will have more space, allowing for beautification features such as gardens and landscaping. “We have feet to spare, so we’ll try to make it aesthetically pleasing.”

The site of the facility will be at the corner of Kekuanaoa and Mililani streets, a 4.4-acre parcel abutting the Waiakea Villas condominium complex.

The lot originally was owned by a trust created by the late David De Luz Sr., owner of Big Island Toyota, and was formerly the site of a building materials production plant.

However, the parcel has been undeveloped for years and has been subject to years of remediation work to remove arsenic-contaminated soil from the area.

“Nobody else wanted to take a chance on the property,” said Ruderman, who, according to real property tax records, purchased the parcel in 2019 for $1.9 million.

The new location wasn’t the first choice for Island Naturals. Ruderman said the franchise originally sought to buy a commercial kitchen, but couldn’t find any properties that matched its needs.

“So, we thought, ‘Well, what if we just build our own kitchen?’” Ruderman said. “And that’s how we found this spot.”

Ruderman said he thinks residents of surrounding homes will welcome the new development, calling it “very desirable.”

Construction of the facility could be completed within three years, Ruderman said, although he added he is “not naive about these things,” and that such an estimate might be overly optimistic.

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Island Naturals Properties LLC filed an application for a special management area use permit with the Windward Planning Commission, which will be discussed during its next meeting on May 6.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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