Candelaria wiped through the grime of a dust-covered window, and what she saw through her makeshift peephole took her breath away—a sliver of ocean beyond a vast covered, open-air retail space. The place was completely bare bones: dirt floors, unfinished walls and no light fixtures. But Candelaria knew she had stumbled upon a buried treasure.
“Finding the place was like a movie,” recalled Candelaria. “Very few people even knew it existed.” Within mere months, the women were bringing their dream to fruition.
On Jan. 3, Candelaria and Harjunpaa opened the doors of their revamped space to reveal a new kind of market—the Mā‘alaea Farmers Market and Craft Fair. Candelaria and Harjunpaa met through their participation in Maui craft fairs and became friends over the last several years.
Co-owners Maggie Harjunpaa (left) and Nonie Candelaria created a new open-air market at Mā‘alaea Harbor in the Mā‘alaea Village Shops.
Candelaria designs and sells Hawaiian-inspired T-shirts, and Harjunpaa sells Hawaiian-made soaps and body butters and other locally made products. Their position as vendors has afforded them a unique insight into the business of open-air markets, and they have created a space that, they say, solves many of the problems of typical outdoor settings.
“We both independently had this idea, and together, it clicked,” explained Harjunpaa. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had plenty of room to set up and stay set up in a venue?’ Any other craft fair is a one-day event. So you set it up, you deal with whatever the elements are, and you take it down. If it’s windy, you deal with the wind. If it’s rainy, you deal with the rain. With our market, you can be here everyday, or two, three days in a row, and you don’t have to take your booth down in between.”
For both vendors and shoppers alike, the covered, open-air space offers shelter from the heat, wind and rain, and offers a spectacular 180-degree ocean view. But, more importantly to Candelaria and Harjunpaa, the market only carries Hawai‘i-made products.
“During the early- to mid-80s,” Candelaria recalled, “there seemed to be a creative renaissance on Maui. Then, starting in the late ’80s—and I was guilty of this myself—people started bringing everything in from the Asian markets because it was just so much cheaper. As we brought more in, we pushed away Hawai‘i’s real artists… But now, we’re trying to go back the other way.”
“That’s the beauty of our market,” added Harjunpaa. “The crafters here can show their things without having to compete with imports…. As far as I know, we are the one and only made-in-Hawai‘i arts and craft fair under one roof.”
The women seek out distinctive Hawai‘i-made products and pride themselves on the variety the market has to offer. From fresh produce to gallery-quality art, the market has offerings from a few dollars up to hundreds.
“There’s something for everyone—in their price range and to suit their taste,” said Harjunpaa.
Custom-made jewelry, blown glass art, wooden bowls, apparel and specialty food items are just a handful of the bounty of products available.
Still in its infancy, the market has suffered challenges that the businesswomen are meeting head-on.
“At first, we had four booths of produce,” said Harjunpaa. “Now, we have one. We just had too much….”
As the word gets out and business increases, however, Candelaria and Harjunpaa hope to re-expand the farmers market sector of the business by adding more organic produce and flowers.
Regardless of any little bumps along the way, the women are enjoying the ride and looking forward to the future.
“My favorite thing about the experience is that it really feels like an ‘ohana,” Harjunpaa explained. “Everybody wants to help one another succeed. There is a real sense of family. One tourist recently told me, ‘It just feels so good in here.’”