Merrie Monarch: Craft fair crowds pack festival grounds

Merrie Monarch: Craft fair crowds pack festival grounds

Merrie Monarch is the hottest ticket in town -- that is, if you can get your hands on one!  But the Festival isn't just about competition, it's one of the best showcases for arts and crafts in Hawai'i each year.

One of the busiest booths at the International Hawaiian Arts Fair each year is Wahine Toa Designs.  In fact, t's so popular -- this year, it has it's own entrance and it's own line.

"Supposedly in previous years, everybody beelines from the front to the back.  So just for them, we're waiting in line. Some of us want tops, dresses or skirts. We're just excited to get this year's craft," said Nancy Wai, who lined up at before 8 a.m. behind dozens of other people even though the doors weren't open to the public yet.  At 10:15 a.m. she still hadn't made it inside.

The clothing used to be available on the internet, but owner Nita Pilago went through inventory too quickly, so purchases are by appointment only now, unless you can make it to Merrie Monarch.

"It's overwhelming for me, I just feel so blessed and honored that people are still using my clothes. This is my fifth year. I'm so happy-- really happy and grateful," said Pilago.

This is Robert "Buddy" Makaiau's 18th year at the craft fair.  He keeps coming back, because it's the perfect venue and customer-base for his hand-made drums.

"This is the only place I come to. This is the only place I display my drums-- and from here, it's just by word of mouth.  People call and order drums and it's a year-long thing. I just keep making drums," explained Makaiau, who started Hawaiian Kine Drums as a hobby.

Organizers tell us locally-made products definitely get the most attention and sell the fastest. As busy as it is for opening day Wednesday, vendors say it will keep picking up until they pack up to leave.

"On the day of the parade, it'll be worse than standing room only," described Jeff Gomes, owner of Hawaii Bookmark, before adding he thinks this will be a great year for everyone. "Usually people check it out the first day and then they come back and buy on the second day or later in the afternoon, but people are buying already first thing in the morning."

Participants say the craft fair provides a great boost for business, but it's also an opportunity to connect with the community.

"There's no money value on aloha and the meeting of friends again, and gaining new friends, and I think a little bit of showing off about what this island can produce and what we can bring forth -- not just this island, but all the vendors and their creativity," explained Mapuana Waipa, who runs the Ke Ana La'ahana Public Charter School booth.  "Even if you're not on the Merrie Monarch stage, it's everything involved that brings everybody here-- kinda exciting-- really exciting for us."

The Merrie Monarch International Hawaiian Arts Fair is free and runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday April 3 through Friday, April 5 and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 6 at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium and Butler Building.

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