Blogging the Aloha State and Beyond
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Prices in Paradise

June 25th, 2008 by Ryan Ozawa · 12 Comments · Business, Hawaii

“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.

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • Linkmeister

    Back in the mid-80s a friend of mine who’d been living in Kailua for three years moved to Northridge in Ca.’s SF Valley. He had three young children, and he was delighted to see his milk cost drop by 50%.

  • DaFerret

    Yeah, and it seems it’ll get a lot worse before it’ll get better. :( As long as I still have enough money for gadgets though… I think survival percentage is good.

  • Phil R

    While things are super pricey, I will be enjoying the islands all I can for my honeymoon in August.

    Hate to say it, but after this trip it might be my last there! Too many other places in the world to see…

  • Mike

    Was on the Big Island in March in gas over $4 a galllon, but milk at $8? OMG dude. Be cheaper buying a cow.

  • Jed

    It’s expensive and unreasonable to declare otherwise. Still what are you getting for your money?

    For local milk, and other locally produced groceries it’s the high cost the manufacturers pay and those costs are passed on. For those goods produced on the mainland or elsewhere in the world it’s the cost of shipping. No doubt.

    But I’ve heard about how high the prices are in HI every time I talk to an HI resident. For a Californian who doesn’t have to bear as many costs of shipping your costs don’t shock me and in some cases, you do well. Much of your gas is refined within 20 miles of where I live; you pay $ 4.50 and I pay 4.61. (http://www.hawaiigasprices.com/retail_price_chart.aspx)

    I went house shopping (pretty much on a lark) last time I was there and a house I looked at was $1.3M!! OTOH, this house on the shore side of the highway near Hawaii Kai had a view of Diamond Head and was an easy 10 minute walk to the beach. And… a house of a similar price here would be of a similar size, but with no view, no beach and no easy 1 hour drive to 1,000 beaches. (Okay a thousand is an exaggeration but it should be acknowledged, there are a LOT.)

    So in the end I’m not saying it’s not expensive. No far from it, but I’ll close with the story of a conversation with a friend who cautioned me when I moved to California that it was a lot more expensive that where we came from (Let’s say Duluth). Yes I said, but if my house in Duluth could somehow be no more than an hour from the ocean beaches, several major cities and Napa wine country and no more than 2 or 3 hours from 3 racetracks (I love racing) and Yosemite. And if *somehow* my house in Duluth had sunshine and warmth 10 months of the year and I *never* had to shovel the drive or put up with salt on the car, and my shoes, and my pants… It would be a lot more expensive too.

  • krisp212

    Wow! I guess I have it made here in Roanoke, VA. A gallon of milk is easily found here for $4, a loaf of bread averages around $2.50, and a jar of peanut butter also hovers around $2.50. Gas has been holding steady around $3.95 per gallon. We’re far, far away from the ocean, but the mountains here are lovely. I’m still visiting HI this fall though…can’t stay away even though everything’s so high.

  • Bill A.

    I visited about 2 years ago and prices were high then. Staycations are on the horizon for many families because of the high prices of everything.

  • conchscooter

    All of which helps one to appreciate the modest, peninsula Florida Keys.

  • NEENZ

    I moved back home from Texas, a state that doesn’t tax food, milk was on sale for less than $3, a generic brand loaf of bread could be bought for $.99, and produce could be bought by the 10 for $1 rather than 1lb for almost $10!

    But, everyday I am grateful that all of the gods got together and granted Hawai’i my home. :)

    Tourism may be tapering off, but I hear there’s a future in the tech industry for Hawai’i.

  • Jure

    Guys, you seemed to be shocked :) Well we are paying this kind of prices in Europe for years and now the inflation…. So be happy to pay only 4 USD/g for gas. Its still cheap compared to Europe. Hm, I just might move to Hawaii, housing is cheaper than here….

  • Laura

    Hawaii needs an exemption to the Jones Act to help save each family $5,000 or more per year.

  • Jenn

    Wow. I live in Boston and I complain when milk is over $3. And I never pay more than $2-3 for peanut butter!

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