Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Isle jeweler Na Hoku
brings Hawaiian theme
to California

By Brent Hopkins
Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES >> Like a cool breeze through the Pali gap, Na Hoku has blown into town.

The Hawaii-based specialty jeweler opened its first full-size California location Monday at Northridge Fashion Center.

As the gates rolled up on the new store, an excited stream of customers poured in.

"It's beautiful," marveled Katherine Bradford of Chatsworth as her daughter, Rene Silverman, inspected earrings. "I've been to the one in Lahaina, so when we saw this one, we thought we'd try it out."

Seeking a match for her pendant, Rene tried several floral motif studs, checking them out in the mirror as Bradford looked on.

"It's really pretty in here," the 15-year-old said, eyeing the sunset mural and palm tree tucked into a corner. "And I'm in love with this plumeria."

The tropical designs, whether in the form of handcrafted jewelry or the very walls of the store itself, are Na Hoku's calling card. It is owned by The Sultan Co., which also owns the Pearl Factory, Hawaiian Island Jems and H.F. Wichman & Co. stores in Hawaii.

While Na Hoku proudly displays its Hawaiian theme, don't expect to find any tiki gods or kitschy talking parrots. According to Susan Jenkins, district manager for the chain, its image is designed to capture the laid-back aura of the islands, rather than cheesy pop-culture.

"People are fascinated with Hawaii," she said, as potential customers hungrily eyed the wares through the windows prior to opening. "The people there really open their hearts to you and make you feel like they want you to be there. It always seems to put a smile on your face."

Within minutes of opening, the store's clerks were all busy, showing off merchandise to eager customers browsing over $70 earrings or $8,500 strings of black pearls.

This lines up with the chain's first foray into California, a small joint venture inside clothier Hilo Hattie's Orange County location, where response was positive.

"We started this little adventure in Orange two years ago," Jenkins said. "We've done well, so we decided to give L.A. a little taste of aloha style."

The chain operates 71 stores nationwide, with 23 on the mainland. A second West Coast branch is planned in coming months in San Diego.

Na Hoku's distinctive products set it apart not only from other jewelers within Northridge Fashion Center, but throughout the region, said Joey Char, marketing director for the mall.

"I can't even think of another store in Los Angeles that positions itself in selling Hawaii's finest jewelry," he said. "Anything you can do to set yourself apart from the competition will always give you a leg up."

Additionally, See's Candy's decision to relocate nearer to the entrance freed up a prime spot for a visually appealing store, Char said.

"It's a corner location in center court, which is a very high-traffic and high-visibility area," he said.

With its glittering entrance, meant to evoke the stars that lend the store its Hawaiian moniker, and glass-flame tiki lights, Na Hoku, should have no trouble capitalizing on its location. Jenkins hopes it will be pleasing shoppers for quite a while. "If you can't be happy in Hawaii," she said. "You can't be happy."

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