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Olson looks to revamp aging Pahala Shopping Center

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald The Wainaku Executive Center in Hilo is for sale for $6 million.

  • Courtesy of Edmund C. Olson Trust II Longs Drugs Pharmacy is one of three tenants of the Pahala Shopping Center. The Olson Trust acquired the center and plans to renovate the community hub.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Edmund Olson sits in the koa boardroom at the Wainaku Executive Center last week in Hilo.

Edmund Olson has purchased the Pahala Shopping Center and plans to renovate the central hub of the former sugar plantation town.

The Edmund C. Olson Trust II officially acquired the shopping center last month. Current tenants are Bank of Hawaii, the U.S. Post Office and Longs Drugs Pharmacy.

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The trust bought the 41,000-square-foot center for $1.7 million from a Baltimore-based 300 Corp.

“I thought this would be the ideal thing to do,” Olson said of the acquisition. “We saw that the area needed improvement, and former management didn’t do as much as they could to keep up with it.”

The trust plans to renovate the shopping center, built in 1966, and potentially add a restaurant, which would be the only restaurant in Pahala.

“The shopping center is so important to the community and is always busy,” said Chief Operating Officer Jeff Clark. “Along with the current tenants, I think a restaurant would be a great addition for the area.”

The purchase of the shopping center comes full circle for Olson, who has had an active interest in the Ka‘u area. In the early 2000s, Olson bought a significant portion of land in Ka‘u from C. Brewer after the last sugar mill shut down in 1996.

Presently, the trust owns and manages 9,898 acres of agricultural land in Ka‘u to help farmers grow coffee and macadamia nuts.

“When I bought the land, I got to meet some of the farmers and taste their coffee, and I thought, wow, this should have a larger audience or brand,” Olson said. “I decided to divide up some of the property into 5- and 10-acre plots for individual farmers to grow coffee.”

The Olson trust now leases property to 35 individual farmers, who can use the Ka‘u Coffee Mill to process, roast and package their coffee beans.

“When I started spending more time here, I met a bunch of friendly people, but the problem was a lack of employment after the sugar mill went down,” Olson said. “I was eager to set up businesses to try to get something going.”

Olson founded the Ka‘u Coffee Mill in 2011 to better support the coffee industry and give 60 local growers a place to go for processing.

In 2010, the Olson trust worked with Hawaiian Islands Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy to preserve more than 8,000 acres in Ka‘u to protect agriculture, safeguard wildlife and preserve the landscape.

“I’ve just had a real interest in preserving the heritage (of Ka‘u) and supporting the future of the area,” Olson said. “It’s been a pleasure.”

Olson, 90, still plays an active role overseeing eight companies on Hawaii Island and Oahu and has no plans of slowing down.

“I looked up one day and it was my 90th birthday,” Olson said. “I keep on working because I love life. My employees also make all of this possible and more manageable for me.”

As recently as 2019, Olson and employee Kea Keolanui founded Hawaii Eco Experiences, an agricultural tour company that helps give farmers an extra source of income from visitors interested in touring their farms and facilities.

“He really just doesn’t stop. He always has a new idea or something to give to the community,” Keolanui said. “So many people have been positively impacted by Mr. Olson, and we want to keep focusing on all the good things happening on our island.”

The Olson trust operates out of the Wainaku Executive Center in Hilo, which continues to serve as a venue for weddings and other small events.

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The 12,000-square-foot building and surrounding property currently is listed for sale for $6 million. The center originally was listed for $8.25 million in 2014.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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