Prices in Paradise
“Lucky you live Hawaii” is an oft-uttered declaration of pride and love among locals who call the islands home. But the gloomy economic news looming over the the country is definitely casting a long, dark shadow over the state.
Earlier this month, my friend and boss Beth visited Honolulu. She came out to Mililani to attend my son’s birthday dinner, and stopped at Star Market for some groceries. She was shocked to see the price of a gallon of milk — on sale for $7.29 — and posted the photo above to Flickr.
Of course, living here, I had no appreciation for just how incredible that seemed. Sure, prices have noticeably risen here over the last few months, but I figured prices have been rising everywhere else. But without a point of comparison, I had no idea just how expensive things were in Hawaii.
Well, CNN’s Chris Lawrence is definitely on the case. Even though he’s reporting from an outsider’s perspective, the wide-eyed horror at what he’s seeing says a lot. A couple of weeks ago, he reported, “Inflation hits hard in Hawaii“:
“Imagine going to your local grocery store and paying over $8 for a jar of Jif peanut butter. How about $5.50 for a loaf of white bread, $6.50 for a gallon of milk or $7.19 for a half-gallon of orange juice? These are just some of the prices we found in a recent survey of Hawaii’s supermarkets. Families there are certainly paying the price for living in paradise.”
Again, those were familiar numbers for me, so I had to turn to Google for some context. Only after finding comparative mainland prices for a jar of peanut butter ($6), a loaf of bread ($2-$3), a gallon of milk ($4) or a half-gallon of orange juice ($4) did I appreciate the powerful thump his lede was supposed to convey.
Lawrence quickly followed that up with “Hawaiians hit by skyrocketing shipping costs.” He did a decent job explaining that things cost more because of what it takes to get them out here (though his headline writer better consult the revised AP style rules on what “Hawaiian” means).
And if that wasn’t enough, Lawrence checks in today with “Hawaii suffers a tourism blow“:
“High fuel prices have caused airfares to skyrocket. And the economy has caused some Americans to postpone or downsize their travel plans. Fewer tourists are coming to Hawaii, and some think the problems are only beginning.”
So Hawaii is not only an expensive place to live, but an expensive place to visit. Not exactly a surprising conclusion, given the controversial report out in May that named Hawaii as the most expensive vacation destination.
Though anecdotal, I’ve definitely sensed smaller crowds on beaches, in restaurants, and at attractions like Bishop Museum. And while the declining visitor counts is ultimately bad news for many businesses, I must confess a selfish appreciation for reclaiming some peace and space.
For me, the key indicator that local business tides are turning is pretty simple: local hotels and attractions are suddenly packaging and promoting deals for locals again. And while my wallet is aching as much as anyone else’s, I have to admit I’m happy to see the return of the “Kama’aina Special.” Sure, I doubt I’d be able to afford a “staycation” anyway, but… it’s nice to feel wanted again.
“Lucky you live Hawaii?” I still say yes. But luck don’t come cheap.