Last lei stand in Waikiki struggling to stay in business
WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A small lei stand surrounded by luxury stores in Waikiki is struggling to survive. The owner is trying to carry on her family's legacy of sharing the Hawaiian culture with visitors.
Kapela Moses started selling fresh lei in Waikiki in 1928. People called her "Aunty Bella." Her granddaughter now runs Aunty Bella's Lei Stand along Kalakaua Avenue at the Royal Hawaiian Center.
"It's not an item that's really expensive. It's an item that really you give to people cause you love, you honor, and you respect them, and that's the Hawaiian way," said Alexandria Byous, the owner's daughter.
But the shop's future is now up in the air after a recent rent hike.
"It gets pretty rough for people in Hawaii to survive, especially for a lei shop," said owner Naomi Braine. "We're the only real, to me, Hawaii thing here in Waikiki for the tourists."
Property owner Kamehameha Schools offered the lei stand a deep discount on rent. A spokesperson for the Royal Hawaiian Center said the reduced rent continued even after the sale of the buildings to J.P. Morgan Asset Management in June. Aunty Bella's is in the 5th year of a 10-year lease agreement, according to the center.
"What you have in the shopping center industry, it's a standard, in the midpoint of an agreement, you have what is called a step up, and your rent does go up. It doesn't go up dramatically, but it does go up," said Sam Shenkus, a spokesperson for the Royal Hawaiian Center. "We value the relationship with them and they have a very, very good deal, and we want them to do well."
Braine also said that after the center's renovation, the new kiosk's smaller size limited the lei selection she could offer.
"It's hard for me to upkeep with the flowers and pay whoever I get here to help to make money," said Braine.
"The benefit is you're on Kalakaua. The challenge is you're on Kalakaua. You have zoning, you have various conditions for the type of structure you can build, but we did the best we could," said Shenkus.
The family hopes to somehow keep their lei making tradition alive in Waikiki, passing the legacy down to future generations.
"I think that it would really be a sad thing, not only for my family, but for my heritage as a lei maker, to lose that in Waikiki," said Braine.
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