Lei stands see sales wilt


POSTED: Sunday, June 14, 2009

LIHUE, Kauai » Lei shop owners fear that more people are buying the Hawaiian wreaths at discount chain stores as the economy slumps.

At Flowers Forever in Lihue, graduation sales of floriculture items dropped about 20 percent compared to last year, said store owner Alan Tada.

“;With Costco and Wal-Mart in the picture now, all the small businesses are affected,”; Tada said.

Pua Lei owner Avery Kano, who opened his business last October in Kapaa, said customers who turn to chain stores for cheaper leis are probably getting what they pay for.

“;Although they are at a less expensive price, you don't get the quality you would get at a local flower shop,”; he said.

Kano acknowledges that it's possible more family and friends opted to create their own lei for graduates this year by plucking flowers themselves or stringing together pieces of colorful ribbon.

Floriculture and nursery sales in Hawaii decreased from $109 million in 2007 to $99 million in 2008, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service's Hawaii Field Office.

The poor economy has played a devastating role by forcing customers to watch their spending, with sales at JC's Flowers in Wailua down about 25 percent compared to last year, said owner Calvin Wada.

With fewer visitors traveling to the islands, Wada has been reaching out to local clients by offering incentives such as buy seven leis, get one free.

“;I have a lot of regular customers, so I can't complain,”; he said.

Tada said flower shops in Hawaii always face the difficulty of having to pay about 40 percent of every dollar for freight. He recently cut his work force by 20 percent to 25 percent to compensate for the economic crunch, with 14 or 15 employees now on-call.

Despite the economic hardships, the tradition of presenting lei won't fade anytime soon, he said.

“;I personally want to see the aloha spirit spread more because that's all we have in Hawaii apart from any other place in the world,”; he said.