How Christopher Ulu’s journey inspired him to help other local entrepreneurs and the community with Ohana Hale Marketplace.
By: Doris Kung
01 May 2019
At the heart of Kakaako lies a marketplace where local entrepreneurs can ease into the start their business.
Ohana Hale Marketplace, owned by Christopher Ulu, is a place where different local vendors can rent out a section of the venue and sell their goods.
As a businessman himself, Ulu wanted to help the local community and support rising entrepreneurs.
Ulu’s first job was working as a janitor, but he later moved on to the storage business where he worked for over 30 years and eventually developed his own storage company.
“Storage is in my blood,” Ulu said.
He used his experience in storage and added retail, which gave birth to Ohana Hale Marketplace. Instead of renting space for storage, vendors are renting space for their shop.
The different areas at Ohana Hale Marketplace.
Christopher Ulu with Bruno Mars' father Peter Hernandez.
(Courtesy Ohana Hale Marketplace)
Christopher Ulu and Francine Ulu. (Courtesy Ohana Hale Marketplace)
Calling the marketplace an upgraded version between a storage facility and a swap meet, Ulu saw that it was helping a lot of people. He wanted the vendors and shoppers to feel like part of an ohana, which means “family” in Hawaiian.
A marketplace filled with vendors is not a unique idea, according to Ulu.
“It’s not new, they do it all over the world,” Ulu said. “But in Hawaii, it’s a new concept.”
Creating Ohana Hale Marketplace was not an easy task, and it’s still not completely finished. Minor renovations still need to be done to allow restaurants to use the marketplace under Hawaii’s regulations.
The construction stage of Ohana Hale Marketplace that was previously Sports Authority. (Courtesy Ohana Hale Marketplace)
“We have some people who just want to tear us down because they don’t see it, the vision that I had,” Ulu said.
An idea that arose four years ago began construction last February and had its grand opening in October.
“I tried to put this down four years ago,” Ulu said. “It’s just, nobody wanted to give me a chance because it was something new in Hawaii.”
Howard Hughes Corporation allowed Ulu to try this concept of a marketplace by leasing the space that was previously occupied by Sports Authority on Ward street.
Since it’s grand opening, people are discovering Ohana Hale Marketplace through word of mouth.
“It is slow during the weekdays than the weekends,” said Savannah Adler, owner of We Are Worthy, who sells clothing at the UH Manoa student boutique.
Kelly Ulu, director of marketing and entertainment, sees the growth in the amount of people who hear about Ohana Hale Marketplace each day.
“As we are still a newer business and as we have such a large space… we are still looking to fill up some spaces with new vendors,” she said. “I believe that once our building is full, our traffic will also increase more.”
The Tonga Sisters performing on state at OHM. (Courtesy of Ohana Hale Marketplace)
Christopher Ulu believes that locals support local businesses.
A statue of Akebono Taro, a professional wrestler and sumo wrestler, will be placed in Ohana Hale Marketplace next week. The statue of Taro was originally in Waimanalo but fell over and was put in a storage unit for more than a year, according to Christopher.
Many young entrepreneurs are grateful for having a place to sell without the boundaries of a long leasing contract.
“He created a hub where local artists, small businesses can thrive,” said Akilah Stewart, owner of FATRA, which has a shop at Ohana Hale Marketplace.
Christopher Ulu talking to Work Hawaii Youth Program at OHM. (Courtesy of Ohana Hale Marketplace)
People gather around the stage area at OHM for Hawaiian quilt making Saturdays.
(Courtesy of Ohana Hale Marketplace)
In the future, Ulu hopes Ohana Hale Marketplace can have its name for itself as he considers word of mouth will always get on.
“In three to four years with enough branding, everyone will forget Sports Authority was there and would know Ohana Hale is there,” he said.
Ohana Hale Marketplace is also looking to become an environmentally-friendly place.
“We are looking forward to making big changes to improve our carbon footprint, to reduce (and eventually remove) our uses of plastics, introduce composting, to use less electricity, to save more water, to increase environmental education programs for the community as well as events and to be an example of sustainability on the island,” Kelly said.