HILO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Aside from the actual competition on stage, local craft fairs are the next hottest event when the Merrie Monarch Festival comes to Hilo town.
The largest event associated with the festival is the Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair. There, residents and visitors can find an array of locally made products from clothing, to food and keepsakes.
Located at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, hundreds of shoppers mingle with hundreds of island vendors to buy quality local goods.
One of the most expensive items HNN came across was a three-strand Ni'ihau shell lei. Price tag: $20,000.
Understandably, the rare shells are highly valued works of art both on display and for sale at the fair.
The arts fair serves as a central hub for the latest in island fashion, papale, featherwork and lei.
Like the competing hula halau, vendors prepare months in advance.
Torie Hoopii of Missing Polynesia starts beefing up her stock of clothing eight months prior to the start of Merrie Monarch week.
"Everybody comes to Hilo for Merrie Monarch, so it's a good way to network and get our brand out there globally and within the islands," Hoopii said.
And the economic benefits for small business who participate in arts and craft fairs are unmatched.
"It's one of our best times all year," Hoopii said. "Black Friday and Christmas are also good, but Merrie Monarch is always the best."
This year's arts fair actually grew from years past.
Organizer Nelson Makua says nearly 200 vendors were able to participate in the fair which now takes up two buildings, and over four rows of a parking lot.
"People always say, 'Why is this fair different?' It's because the people are different here. They have so much aloha," Makua said. "This week, Hilo takes on a life of its own. But the arts fair and the hula festival is really about Hilo and the people of Hilo."
For more information on all things Merrie Monarch related, click here.
This year's Hawaiian Invitational Arts Fair runs until April 7. Weekday hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Saturday, the event runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.