LAHAINA - Seeing the growth and success of Friday night events in Wailuku and Paia, the county Office of Economic Development (OED) is partnering with two more communities to stage "Maui Friday Town Parties."
Beginning this month, the Maui town party slate will be Wailuku-First Friday, Lahaina-Second Friday, Makawao-Third Friday and Paia-Fourth Friday.
Coordinator Jill Holley said the soft opening for Lahaina's town party this week will feature free admission to Lahaina Restoration Foundation (LRF) museums, art gallery receptions and special music at restaurants.
The first official Lahaina party on Dec. 9 will have a holiday theme and include special events and promotions at art galleries, restaurants, retail stores and museums, Holley said.
"First Friday" in Wailuku will be the only festival with a regular closure of Market Street, but Holley said that in 2012, Lahaina's party may include a Front Street closure once per quarter.
LRF will help coordinate the events, which could include activities in Campbell Park, Banyan Tree Park or Lahaina Public Library's lawn.
Makawao's first party on Nov. 18 will feature entertainment and food throughout the town, said Coordinator Melissa Sands.
The county held a press conference last week Wednesday in the Mayor's Conference Room at the County Building to discuss the "Maui Friday Town Parties" initiative.
OED Director Teena Rasmussen said that she met with Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Tumpap last spring to brainstorm ways to help Maui's small business community during this "very long, hard recession."
Tumpap suggested rolling out the Wailuku "First Friday" concept to other towns. OED took the idea and ran with it, Rasmussen said.
"Maui Friday Town Parties" has been in the works for six months. OED staff met with merchants in the four towns, which are all completely unique with different character and ambiance, Rasmussen said.
The weekly events will entice residents and visitors to rediscover these historic towns, she added.
Merchants in Wailuku and Paia have embraced the concept and offer pupus, store specials, street vendors, art and music at the Friday night parties.Rasmussen went to Paia's event on Oct. 28. It was the first time in her 35 years on Maui that she spent two hours walking around in town.
She did some shopping, ate dinner, spoke to shop owners and saw friends. That's the fun experience she envisions for all of the town parties.
For the events to succeed, it's important for merchants to participate and engage with customers.
Store owners in Wailuku and Paia said they have gained new clients, exposure and strong revenues during the festivals.
OED will provide umbrella marketing, and the public relations firm Gilbert & Associates will promote the events through a website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Maui Visitors Bureau will also promote the parties.
Wailuku "First Friday" promoter Yuki Lei Sugimura said the monthly fetes have generated growth and excitement for Wailuku Town in the last four years.
Saedene Ota of Sae Design and the Wailuku store Maui Thing said stores in town don't see the same foot traffic as shopping malls.
"We rely heavily on First Friday," she said.
E-mail lists grow, visitors discover stores they never heard of, non-profits raise funds at these monthly community parties, and "every 'First Friday' our sales increase," Ota commented.
She sees the four-town promotion "exploding" in popularity.
Teri Edmonds, owner of If the Shoe Fits and a merchant in Wailuku for 12 years, said "First Friday" has helped revitalize the town.
It grew from a small street festival to a major event that draws thousands of people. The waiting list for vendors is now 100 deep.
Edmonds said "First Friday" boosts revenues for all participants. People that have lived on Maui for decades spend their first nights walking around in Wailuku Town, and some return to shop at stores.
Paia Inn owner Michael Baskin said he is really impressed with his town's "Fourth Friday" gatherings. It's an excellent campaign for the town, he said, and visitors like Paia because it is unique.
"It's very exciting to see what's happening in the town of Paia," he commented.
Mayor Alan Arakawa said Wailuku merchants bought into the concept, and now "First Friday" is a huge gathering that people look forward to attending.
He hopes that Lahaina and Makawao generate the same kind of enthusiasm.
Residents and visitors seek new experiences, Arakawa said. The festivals can be successful if everyone makes the best of the opportunity, works together, and merchants buy in.
Gilbert & Associates also unveiled the "Maui Friday Town Parties" logo based on street art. With names and different colors for each area, the artwork features a town scene, musician and night stars.
The colors are green for Wailuku, representing the lushness of the area and Iao Valley; gold for Lahaina, for its spectacular sunsets and historic Hawaiian past; red for Makawao, representing the area's rodeo and paniolo heritage; and blue for Paia, for its ocean and surf town feel.
Rasmussen said "Maui Friday Town Parties" could be expanded to Kihei during months with five Fridays.
South Maui needs a merchants' association to coordinate the parties, she said.
Kihei also lacks a street area that's the focal point of the town, Rasmussen added. She feels the parties should not be held at shopping centers.