The good news is the area was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, which meant its unique low-slung buildings couldn’t be demolished by new development. The bad news was its longstanding reputation for hosting drug dealers, prostitution, and crime has been hard to shake.
“There’s still a perception of crime, and a perception of lack of parking, and both are actually not true,” explains Resich, who adds that while there is indeed a homeless population and you can certainly find drugs if you sought them out, the area is, for the most part, relatively safe. “If a purse gets snatched, we get attention in the media, but I feel it’s definitely way worse in Waikiki. The police have done a good job on these blocks where we have businesses,and we have lots of municipal parking. I do think the city has done their part, but I don’t think the perception has really caught on.”
As for the future, the consensus is that rents should stay reasonable, since many buildings and businesses are independently owned. But, like gentrifying neighborhoods around the country, change is afoot. An investor group is currently redeveloping the historic three-story Wo Fat building into the neighborhood’s first boutique hotel (a concept that’s been a hit in Waikiki with the modern Laylow, in addition to vintage surf culture-themed Surfjack).There’s also talk of a new Marriott mixed-use complex.Thus far, though, the revitalization feels far from typical, with slower changes centered around an organic artists’ community, local nightlife scene, and crop of culinary talent -- rather than the thoughtless redevelopment that we so often witness in other cities. Then again, you never know. “If the Marriott goes in right there, it could happen overnight. But there’s no John Varvatos down here,” says Busser. “Not yet.”
One thing’s for sure: Now is the time to hit up Chinatown on your next trip to Oahu. Here are 15 dining and drinking spots to get the most out of this one-of-a-kind neighborhood.