Local small businesses hang on during economic rollercoaster

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The weekend couldn't come soon enough for Wall Street. And on Main Street, small businesses are bracing for even more economic ups-and-downs. We wanted to know how Hawaii companies are weathering this latest financial rollercoaster. So, what better place to gauge the temperature of our local economy than to talk to entrepreneurs and small business owners at the Made in Hawaii festival in Honolulu?

The majority of their product or products have to be produced here in the islands, and one way or another, the exhibitors we spoke with have definitely been affected by the economic downturn.

A year ago, Mia Obciana was in a courtroom, not behind a counter. But when the 32 year old lawyer was unexpectedly laid-off, her attention turned from legal briefs to lollipops made of cake. Last December, her hobby became the business, Sweet as Sugar. It's taken off, but she says her family is still living on a limited income.

"Everything that we put into the business is all cash," says Obciana. "We've tried very, very hard not to take out any more lines of credit just because, you know, with the economy the way it is, there are no guarantees."

This is Denise Fleetham first Made in Hawaii festival. Her products from Rainbow Ridge Farm on Maui have continued to fly off shelves since she launched her company seven years ago. She even used to turn DOWN business. But despite her success, lately, she's been re-evaluating her strategy.

"We've seen the stock market. We've seen what's happening in Europe and Japan, so there's a lot going on right now that's causing me to say, 'You know what? I cannot say no. I have to say yes right now to whatever business comes my way'," says Fleetham.

The economic instability has affected many of these vendors. Marlene Nakaishi opened Hilo Bay Island Creations a couple years ago - when her Big Island company downsized and let her go after 17 years. She, too, turned her hobby into a tote and bag business.

"It wasn't an option," says Nakaishi. "The mortgage had to get paid. The childrens' education had to be done, so we do what we have to do."

Their stories could be told time and again here amongst these 430 local vendors who are showcasing their products. It makes "buying local" all the more meaningful.

"People understand how serious it is - that we need to use our money here because it has that trickle-down effect," says Made in Hawaii festival marketing director, Amy Hammond.

Many are hanging on and hoping for the best - as they ride this economic rollercoaster.

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