Honolulu's Chinatown has been a center of revitalization, but there are concerns too many improvements could change the character of the district.  

    On Hotel Street, the buildings still have the look of old Chinatown,
but they are now filling up with new, trendy, upscale stores and restaurants.
    Many new venues feature cuisine from all over the world - except China.

Chinatown was long known as a place where almost anything goes.

"We have a tremendous history going back before WWI. This has been an entertainment district for the military and a happy place for a little R&R, hanky panky, prostitution and drugs, you name it," said Chinatown Business & Community Association President Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock.

Hotel Street was at the center of it all, but now instead of being a magnet for seedy businesses, it is attracting upscale ones.
 
"I love it. I think it is great for our community. There are a lot of places to eat and boutique shops. It is exciting to see all the improvements," said Kailua resident Debbie Story.

Locals aren't the only ones attracted to the improved section of Chinatown.

"We see more visitors and tourists, from San Francisco, Portland, Seattle & New York, places that have a strong food and drink culture," said Joey Joyce with Breaking Bread Hospitality Group which now has three venues along Hotel Street. Lucky Belly went in 5 years ago. Upscale restaurant Livestock Tavern opened 3 years ago, and its newest offering is wine bar Tchin Tchin! at 39 Hotel.

"Our hope and vision for down here is it becomes an all day destination. People can come down and go shopping, eat lunch at one place, then dinner somewhere else, with cocktails before that," added Joyce.

Along with more businesses moving in, there has also been a greater police presence -- part of the effort to change the way people think about Chinatown.

"We're coming down here to get something to eat. It feels safer. They have the lights on, and it is a nice atmosphere to come to downtown," said Dave Story.

The nice atmosphere comes at a cost though.

"You are going to have gentrification, whether you like it or not, of this district," stated Shubert-Kwock.

As more affluent businesses move in, building rents may go up. Some fear that could drive smaller, more traditional Chinatown merchants out.

"Chinatown is a historic district, so we need to preserve our diversity and culture that is unique to our plantation culture here," said Shubert-Kwock.

Because it is a historic district, new modern structures are restricted from going in and old building facades are required to be kept, preserving the architecture of Chinatown.
But there is nothing in place requiring open aired markets, traditional herb shops or Chinese food venues to remain.

"Without that part of Chinatown giving us the colorful fruits and vegetables, and exotic stuff, like all the dim sum -- then it would not be Chinatown," said Shubert-Kwock.

 

  Part of the appeal of Chinatown is the gritty mix of old and new, but one issue that continues to be a problem is the number of homeless residents who call the store fronts home late at night. Turning the trendy streets into overnight camps.