Hilo Hattie, Don’t Leave Me!
Travel Blog • Pam Mandel • 04.17.09 | 10:59 AM ET
I confess: I love Hilo Hattie’s, the kitsch-tastic chain of retail stores where you can buy matching aloha wear for your entire family, hula girl lamps and beaded curtains, nightlights that have the word “Aloha” etched into their cowrie shell shades, coffee cups with your “Hawaiian” name on them, 73 different varieties of macadamia nut treat, straw hats, sun screen, flip-flops, tank tops ... oh, it goes on and on.
Most of the stuff they sell isn’t made in Hawaii; the shirts are from China, the mango candy from Thailand, even the shell leis they drop around your neck as you walk in the door are probably from some place other than Hawaii but never mind, never mind. I take the coupons from the airport brochures, I get on the shuttle bus and off I go to buy more ridiculous Aloha-themed junque. Don’t judge me. I openly admit I have a problem.
I was bummed when Hilo Hattie’s was sold to a California company—prior to that at least I could delude myself that the money I blew was going to a Hawaii-based parent company—but I was even more bummed to learn that the chain is in the middle of a messy bankruptcy. If the breezy doors to Hilo Hattie’s are shuttered when we arrive in the islands next, I don’t know how I’ll scratch that itch for Hawaiian kitsch.
The stores, first opened in 1963, were named after Clarissa Haili, a Hawaiian singer, dancer, actress and comedienne. She’s in “Blue Hawaii,” briefly, but she’s unforgettable—I knew she was Hilo Hattie before I knew she was Hilo Hattie. There’s a great write-up of both the actress and the store in this 2003 Rocktober Magazine article, Aloha Hilo Hattie!. In the story, the writer tells some young women he meets on a train—lectures them, really—on how, yes, they too can dress in the same Aloha wear that the Rock (you saw him in the controversial SNL skit) wears with such great style.
In 2003 it may have worked, but today when you click on the Hilo Hattie’s website, you get a message saying that the site is under construction. Given the news about the bankruptcy, this isn’t a promising sign. If I have to say “Aloha” to Hilo Hattie again, it will just break my heart.