Native Intelligence: Kaua‘i

Maker's Mall

Story by Jordan Kushins. Photos by Mallory Roe.

In the 1950s it was a pineapple packing plant. Later it was a factory for jalousie glass and aluminum framing. But in 2013, when Ariana and Ty Owen bought the old building on a leafy stretch of road in Lāwa‘i, Kaua‘i, it was a mess—dilapidated and disused. “We didn’t want to see it torn down and rebuilt,” Ariana says. Despite the condition, it was structurally sound, so they decided to rehabilitate it. “My husband is great at taking what’s already there and making it better,” Ariana says. “We didn’t have a big vision, but wanted to do something for the community.”

Ty handled much of the renovation himself, and they considered how to make the most of the space. “Let’s try it!” became their unofficial motto. When they began inviting family and friends over to sell handmade goods in the summer of 2015, things began to click. Now, Warehouse 3540 brings the novelty of a pop-up and funky spirit of an art walk to a permanent place.

It’s more co-op than mall and designed with hang time in mind. Fresh air and natural light flow through when the industrial doors roll open. A converted camper van offers coffee and sweets; food trucks park out front. Full- and part-time vendors sell everything from pearl bracelets to greeting cards to t-shirts to woven totes to local produce. A regular schedule of Friday markets, second Saturday socials, art nights and other events gives people reasons to keep coming back.

Shannon Hiramoto, one of the anchor tenants, sews all the clothes that bear her Machinemachine label on-site and shares her studio with her printmaker father and his letter-press. While it can be tough for IRL (“in real life”) creative entrepreneurs to make headway in a world of high rents and quick-click online retail, Hiramoto’s been able to develop her brand and teach others through DIY workshops thanks to the community-focused, maker-oriented model of Warehouse 3540. “One of the most beautiful things is how much this place is nurturing small businesses to grow and thrive,” Hiramoto says.