DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Arts Hawaii, a local handcrafted-goods store that sand blasts designs on glassware, is going out of business after 60 years. Above, Sonchai Nisayaphan yesterday inspected a champagne glass on which he had just sandblasted a design.
Arts Hawaii Inc. concedes the market to cheap imports
The business, which sells etched glass and crystal products, was started by Frank and Ethel Oda in 1946
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After 60 years of economic ups and downs, Gary Oda says foreign knockoffs have finally done in his family business.
The owner of Arts Hawaii Inc. says the small company can't survive the flood of imported imitations of his intricately handcrafted etched-glass products.
The company, which puts etchings of plumeria, hibiscus and other Hawaiian flowers on vases, bowls, frames and wine glasses for $50 to $100 a piece, can no longer compete with copies at half the price.
Oda, 59, is closing the store at 514 Piikoi St. in mid-July and moving to Missouri with his family to set up a one-man shop with limited production of his etched glasswork.
The company, originally named Hawaii Glass & Art, was founded by Oda's parents, Frank and Ethel.
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Imported Chinese knockoffs were the final blow to Arts Hawaii Inc., which is closing next month after 60 years in business.
After riding out many previous downturns, owner Gary Oda said the business, which opened in 1946, can't survive the flood of cheaper, imported copies of his handcrafted etched glass and crystal products.
Intricate etchings of plumeria, hibiscus and other Hawaiian flowers on vases, bowls, frames and wine glasses ranging from $50 to $150 were once unique to his business.
But copies of his work at half the price began to flood the market two years ago, sinking revenue by 60 percent.
"This was the final straw," said Oda, who took over the business from his father, artisan Frank Y. Oda, and mother, Ethel, in 1975. "The market just started getting swamped by cheap foreign products -- that's what wiped us out."
The company last year recorded less than $200,000 in revenue, compared to the more than $400,000 it posted 10 years ago.
The rising cost of business -- including employee health insurance, taxes and shipping expenses -- also have taken a toll on the mom-and-pop operation at 514 Piikoi St., which has five employees, most of whom have worked there for decades.
Oda has seen a number of local artisans forced out of business in recent years because more people are buying imports instead of locally made products.
The company has sold its products to the Navy Exchange and other military outlets for decades, but orders have been shrinking in recent years as imported goods become more popular.
The Navy Exchange, which is the company's largest account, now carries three shelves of foreign imitations, compared to the single shelf of the local handiwork, for example.
"I actually sat down at the Navy Exchange to do a demonstration and sat at the wrong display area, then realized it wasn't my stuff," Oda said, adding that some buyers even ask for his signature on the imitation products.
"Now they have copies that are less expensive and price is the major factor for everyone," he said.
Arts Hawaii has survived the downturns in business after the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
However, like other small businesses, the company can no longer compete in the evolving market, where larger mainland chains are buying less and less of locally made products, he said.
"Imports are killing the economy," said Amber Iwamoto, a crafter who has worked at Arts Hawaii for eight years.
Iwamoto has sold handcrafted beaded jewelry at local craft fairs for the last 10 years and says foreign imports are becoming more prevalent even at Made-in-Hawaii events.
"People who do things by hand are going out of business because they're getting their stuff replaced by imports and they can't compete," she said. "People look at the bottom line."
Patty Schafer, owner of Island Treasures at the Marina, which carries high-end locally made products, said the problem has worsened over the years for local artists who painstakingly produce individual pieces one at a time.
"You have a fine, outstanding company that can't compete with cheap glassware," she said. "It's very sad to lose an artisan to copycats that do not have the love and craftsmanship that Arts Hawaii has."