Island craft fairs help define holiday season

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Myles Sumida of Hurricane Ukuleles sets up one of his ukuleles for sale Friday during the 10th annual Na Makua Invitational Christmas Gift Fair at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo. The fair continues from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. today.

When the holiday shopping season rolls around, Chere Fenton skips Walmart and Target and instead forages for most of her presents for loved ones at craft fairs.

“I really try hard not to go to the big-box stores,” said Fenton, a 48-year-old Puna resident and longtime holiday craft fair patron. “At craft fairs, you get a product that’s one-of-a-kind. It’s not something your neighbors have. It’s original and something someone took the time to make with their own two hands.”

Fenton isn’t alone.

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Hawaii Island is home to an abundance of seasonal craft fairs. They kick off each year in mid-November and occupy most every weekend through Christmas.

At the fairs, visitors can purchase custom-made goods not found anywhere else: intricately carved koa wood pieces, hand-stitched dish towels and hot pads, island artwork and photography, handmade jewelry and clothing, and an assortment of food, coffees and spices, to name a few.

“There’s a real love for one-of-a-kind in the community and things that are handmade,” said Marlene Vashishta, committee member for the upcoming Big Island Art, Craft, Gift & Food Fair. “There’s a resurgence of people who really have a great appreciation for artwork that’s not bought in the store or online. It’s unique to their personality and liking. So they really like that specialty aspect of it.”

This weekend, East Hawaii residents can check out the Na Makua Invitational Christmas Gift Fair, which is slated to have about 85 vendors, said organizer Nelson Makua.

Next weekend, residents can visit the Kama‘aina Christmas Craft Fair, formerly the Hilo Shopping Center Fair, which has outgrown its old digs and is moving for the first time to the Butler Building near the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium to accommodate about 40 vendors — nearly double the number in past years.

Organizer Marcia Prose said she aims to keep vendor fees low and only allows island crafters — no-resellers.

“I think the growth of craft fairs has to do with people liking the idea of talking face to face to the people who made something,” Prose said. “And people have fun shopping. I think that’s one thing craft fairs do for people.”

“People don’t always want to go to the malls,” added Linda Ugalde, organizer of the Kamahalo Craft Fair in Volcano, which took place last month. “At our craft fair, there’s parking and food and people can tour our crafters and find many very reasonably priced articles. I think people are beginning to realize their local vendors have great products and some wonderful items.”

Fenton said she generally visits up to six fairs each holiday season and even more throughout the year. She prefers to meander through vendor tables and keep watch for things that catch her eye — handmade wreaths, photographic prints of Hawaii scenery and nature shots. One of her best finds yet — a tie-dyed shirt with a dozen colors expertly swirled together.

“It’s tie-dyed but very intricate, and the colors are just so magnificent,” Fenton said. “And no one else will have that shirt — I’m the only one.

“For me, Christmas just ain’t Christmas without craft fairs.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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Upcoming craft fairs:

Na Makua Invitational Christmas Gift Fair: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. today (last day). Located at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. There will be entertainment, prize drawings and food by Liko Lehua Cafe. Visit namakua.com/nm-xmas for more information.

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Kama‘aina Christmas Craft Fair: 2-8 p.m. Dec. 7 and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 8-9. Located at the Butler Building near the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. No admission fee. A partnership between island crafters, students from the Waiakea Interact Club and the Rotary Club of Hilo. Shoppers will find items crafted from wood, shells, ceramics, silver, glass, fabrics and even concrete. Other vendors will offer coffees, teas, spices, snacks, bonsai, orchids, soaps, jewelry and photography. The BISAC Big Island Fusion Food Truck also will be there.

25th Big Island Art, Craft, Gift & Food Fair: 4-9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16. Located at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium. Visit www.hawaiiartsandcraftsfestival.com for more information.