Longtime Kailua art gallery to call it quits, blames soaring rents

A longtime Kailua art gallery held a party marking its end.
A longtime Kailua art gallery held a party marking its end.(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 9:48 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 20, 2022 at 9:46 AM HST
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KAILUA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds flocked to Island Treasures Art Gallery on Friday night for a big going-out party. After more than three decades, the beloved Windward Oahu business is closing its doors.

“Basically we were hoping to keep the art gallery open and we had been doing a lot better as things have been getting busier,” said art gallery manager Ben Matlin.

But Matlin said that while the gallery survived COVID, owner Gail Allen could no longer afford the rent.

“When Gail opened the gallery 34 years ago, the rent was $2,500,” Matlin said. “Now the rents are $17,000 to $20,000, and they want escalation clauses, every year higher.”

A spokesperson for landowner Alexander & Baldwin said in a statement:

“Over the past several years, we have provided financial assistance at the request of Island Treasures to support their continued operation. During the pandemic, we extended the gallery significant relief with an agreement that there would be a return to prior lease rents once the modified period ended and market conditions improved.

“For months, we discussed with the owners options for their space, in an effort to keep them open in Kailua. We respect Island Treasures’ decision to conclude operations upon the natural expiration of their lease this month and wish them well.”

Over the years, Island Treasures Art Gallery had showcased paintings, sculptures, jewelry and more.

The dozens of artists who sold their creations there on consignment are now at a loss.

“This is going to leave a real cavity, a gap,” said David Friedman, who specializes in bright paintings of local landscapes. “It’s been a proud part of my career and my resume to be included.”

“It’s a sad, sad event,” said painter Bill Braden, who has showed his art at Island Treasures since the beginning.

“I guess it means an opportunity for somebody to open a gallery, and I’m looking for a gallery,” he added.

“This place is a place of community for artists to gather,” said artist and former Kailua resident Juanita Aguerrebere. “Not being able to afford the rent is an example of the gentrification that’s happening in Kailua and all over the state.”

Aguerrebere added that she felt that it wasn’t just the closing of a gallery, it was the closing of a community.

Kailua is a different place from what it was when the gallery opened in 1988. Kailua residents note there are fewer local retailers and more national chains moving in, including a Whole Foods located across the street, where the gallery had its first location.

The formerly sleepy windward Oahu town was also attracted more visitors from Japan, which the gallery said made up 50% of its business.

“If they were back already and we were doing fantastic, then we might reconsider, but who knows if and when that’s going to happen,” said Matlin.

The artists themselves are hopeful that their creative community can stay together.

“We will find a way. We will make it work,” said painter Fe Maria Vasquez, before adding, “I don’t know how. It will happen.”

Kailua residents are unsure about the larger community.

“I don’t know what they’re going to put here,” said resident Rona Adams. “Do you?”