A Rice Street Revamp

It’s that time of year again, when Rice Street transforms into a festive Christmas wonderland.

On Dec. 6, the once-desolate Rice Street will be transformed into a hub of activity that’ll ring in the holiday season.

On a lazy Sunday morning in the heart of Līhu‘e town, the popular Rain-beau Jo’s Organic Coffee truck sits at the intersection of Rice and ‘Umi streets. There, young families wait for their morning brews, while people play with complimentary hula hoops.

Elsewhere at the junction, early morning fitness buffs exit a spin class at nearby Island RIDE Kaua‘i and stroll past police officers gearing up to start their day.

This is the new look of Rice Street, and it all began six years ago when Jim Guerber decided he needed to find a space to open his own brewery. The ever-popular Kaua‘i Beer Co. opened there in September 2013, and business on Rice Street hasn’t been the same since.

“We set an example,” says Guerber. “People said we couldn’t do this because there’s no parking.

Catch people indulging in a bit of fun at a variety of local businesses along the new and improved Rice Street.

“I tried to find a place to start a brewery. I’d been brewing beer for 40 years. I was brewing beer in my garage in Po‘ipū and giving it away to people for their fundraisers. There was no other place on Kaua‘i, (but) then this place popped up, and I went wow, we should do this.”

Long story short, the business flourished and started the bustling community that now surrounds it.

“The general idea up until us coming here was that Rice Street was not a terribly interesting area,” says Kaua‘i Beer Co.’s marketing and special projects director Larry Feinstein. “(It) was just a place you drove through. When we started, we knew we needed to be a destination of our own because there was nobody walking up and down the street.”

Festive keiki ride a trolley during last year’s Rice Street-area celebrations.

To say the area was desolate is an understatement.

Now, though, the long-range plan for Rice Street is to make the area friendlier, more accessible and more convenient. According to Guerber Feinstein, Kaua‘i Beer Co.’s second-level beer garden is almost complete, and the idea is that other buildings will also expand upward.

“The zoning for Rice Street is that you can go up 50 feet, which is four stories,” explains Guerber. “The vision is like these older California towns where there’s stores, and above the stores are apartments so people can live and work here.”

Feinstein, for his part, is a board member of the newly formed Rice Street Business Association a nonprofit focused on seeing the goals and action steps from the Kaua‘i General Plan and Līhu‘e Community Plan come to fruition.

The prime mover for the organization is Dr. Addison Bulosan, who owns Rice Street business The Specific Chiropractic Centers Kaua‘i. “Our goals are to bring together the businesses on and off of Rice Street, and create opportunities for local families and businesses to thrive through commerce and social gatherings,” explains Bulosan.

To that end, Rice Street’s largest social gathering is slated for Dec. 6, with Rotary Club of Kaua‘i’s annual Lights on Rice Parade (6 p.m.), Kaua‘i Museum’s annual Christmas Craft Fair (9 a.m.-8 p.m.), and the 23rd annual Festival of Lights (6 p.m.) at the historic County Building.

And that’s not the only thing happening on Rice Street on Dec. 6.

Bulosan also wants to let the community know about Hawai‘i Foodbank Kaua‘i Branch’s inaugural holiday kickoff at Rice Shopping Center from 2 to 10 p.m.

As a member of the nonprofit’s board, he knew combining his two philanthropic passion projects would be a twofold benefit for everyone involved.

“Over 4,000 paraders and 10,000 parade watchers flood downtown Līhu‘e, and we wanted to create (something) for us to continue to gather and celebrate the holiday spirit,” he says. “The (food bank’s) holiday kickoff is a perfect example of accomplishing Rice Street Business Association’s goals, as it’s an opportunity for the community to gather, deepen our relationships with each other, our businesses and our land through the spirit of the holidays.”

To prepare, Hawai‘i Foodbank Kaua‘i Branch has been working alongside Rotary Club of Kaua‘i to provide a complimentary experience for families to enjoy the event.

“Our hope is to inspire families to remember those in need and continue to do the good deeds that we all do during the holidays,” says Bulosan. “The holiday season is upon us, and there is an immense feeling of gratitude that fills the air. From this gratitude spurs an act of giving in hopes of helping those who may share in this fulfillment. All kind gestures have the potential (of) being the difference in someone’s life.”

At the holiday kickoff, expect a keiki area with activities, holiday shopping, food trucks, live music and more.

For more information about Dec. 6 happenings, visit lightsonrice.org, kauaimuseum.org, kauaifestivaloflights.com and hawaiifoodbank.org/kauai.