Business Monday: CocoNene opens in Waikōloa after flagship store burned in Lāhainā fire
October 23, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
Kent Untermann grabbed his wife Lori and shed some tears when learning their flagship CocoNene store — which sells whimsical, locally made home decor and wood wall art — burned to the ground during the Aug. 8 Lāhainā wildfire on Maui.
But less than 90 days later, the company is bouncing back with the opening of a new location at the Waikōloa Kings’ Shops on the Big Island.
They had plans to expand to the Big Island in 2024 or later, but when the fires happened the schedule was accelerated.
“We knew we wanted to be in Waikōloa,” Uttermann said.
On Friday, CocoNene employees from Maui joined their coworkers on Hawai‘i Island to celebrate the grand opening of the new 820-square-foot store, which was fully stocked with laser-cut wooden ornaments, keychains, clocks and a variety of wood cutouts including rainbows, pineapples, slippers, flowers, a volcano and the Lāhainā banyan tree. Their signature Longboard Letters, where you can take any of their wood creations and stick them in the slats of a mini longboard, are also available.
Shannon Becker, store manager at Kings’ Shops, said the Waikōloa store provided hope the company could recover.
“It gave us all something to focus on collectively at a time when you feel like you have no control,” Becker said.
Atu McClancy, store manager in Lāhainā, was at the celebration but cried when thinking about the West Maui store.
CocoNene had a prime location next door to the popular Fleetwood’s on Front Street bar and restaurant, with 800 to 1,000 people coming through its doors every day.
Untermann said the Maui shop made three times the volume of its other four locations, all on O‘ahu, pulling in $3 million a year.
On the day of the fire, McClancy and her husband Greg, also a CocoNene employee, went to check on the store because the power went out. Due to the combination of the power outage and high winds, she closed the store for the day and headed home to Pukalani on the other side of Maui.
“Less than an hour later, the town was on fire,” Greg McClancy said.
She saw a video of their building on the news and was speechless.
“I went from thinking about the store to thinking about the employees,” McClancy said. “The next day we tracked them down. Half of them lost their homes.”
McClancy said the Lāhainā store vibe was happy and she feels that also will be the case in Waikōloa.
“You look at things and can’t help but smile,” she said.
Becker said it’s remarkable the company could pull off opening a new store in under three months.
From scouting the right location to negotiating the lease, down to the design of the space, Becker said the company flew over workers from O‘ahu to renovate the Waikōloa store by ripping up carpets and installing light fixtures, shelves and cabinets that are all custom-made for the new location.
“We did install with no air conditioning,” Becker said with a laugh. “I can’t believe we got it done.”
CocoNene is part of the family of brands that includes the kama‘āina company Pictures Plus, founded in 1986 by Untermann and his wife on Oʻahu. The Waikōloa store is the first of three new CocoNene locations. The stores will open on Maui in Ma‘alaea and Kalama Village in Kīhei.
McClancy said they are also looking at opening a store at Lāhainā Cannery Mall next year.