Petition urges city to address alcohol consumption at Chinatown street festivals
What at first was a noble attempt to promote Honolulu's Chinatown as a destination for culture and the arts has been transformed into a spring break-like beer bash that hurts businesses.
That's the claim being levied by Chu Lan Shubert-Kwok, president of the Chinatown Business and community Association. However, Shubert-Kwok is not alone in her concern over monthly street festivals; she's circulated a petition that has generated more than 500 signatures.
"By encouraging more of this activity, we're not really helping the cultural or historical aspect (of Chinatown)," said Shubert-Kwok. "It's a big disruption."
The petition urges city officials to address the rampant consumption of alcohol at dozens of nighttime street festivals in the heart of Chinatown.
Shubert-Kwok said one of the most troublesome events is First Friday, billed as a festival showcasing Chinatown's artistic galleries and cultural resources. However, the following Saturday, Shubert-Kwok says the area is often littered with trash and smells of urine.
"Vomiting, human waste, urination, graffiti, fights, noise and loud music," Shubert-Kwok told KITV4. "People buy a band and they can go in and out (of bars), so they never go home."
Although open alcoholic containers are not allowed during First Friday events, area residents say customers often spill out of bars holding plastic cups filled with cocktails or beer.
"Last month customers were standing outside drinking and the band was taking up all the sidewalk, and this is what we as residents have been going through," said Dolores Mollring, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Board, who uses an electric scooter to get around.
Still, for businesses trying to attract visitors to a part of town that also struggles with homelessness and illicit drug use, First Friday and other festivals offers a unique chance to standout and entice new clientele.
"If you have an attractive event that attracts people down to your shop, I think that's a successful way to market your company," said Marian Lee, owner of Mojo Barbershop on Bethel Street, which by the way, offers grateful customers a selection of ice cold beers.
"The beer is an added service," said Lee. "A lot of people like to come in for a haircut (and) enjoy a beer. "They're not here to get drunk. First Friday, there are a lot of benefits to it, especially for the young entrepreneurs and small business owners."
Honolulu promoter Mark Tarone said he values Shubert-Kwok's concern for the community, but both of his annual events, Mardi-Carnival and Hallowbaloo, have been free of major incidents, even while serving alcohol street side.
"We have everything designated with crowd control barriers in the areas of the festival, and then we have security at all those checkpoints," said Tarone. "The average is about two drinks per person for the people that have a drink, and about half the people don't have any cocktails."
Tarone believes both sides of the street festival issue can find common ground, and those businesses that tend to profit from the gatherings have already made concessions.
Late last year, the Arts District Merchants Association cancelled a monthly festival called Slow Art Friday after residents complained. The non-profit group also pays to reroute city buses during First Friday events to make it safer for patrons.
Nevertheless, Shubert-Kwok hopes her petition will make city officials take notice, and examine whether frequent street festivals serve Chinatown's business and residential interests fairly.
"Eighty percent of the businesses are not alcohol-related businesses," said Shubert-Kwok. "It really takes business away from them, but they put up with it, because they don't want to be the bad guy."
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