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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 18, 2002

Stadium lei sales crimped

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

New fees, requirements and restrictions placed on lei vendors at Aloha Stadium have drastically cut the number of people willing to sell their products there during graduation ceremonies this year and left some vendors with no place to sell their homemade stock.

Volume Services America, the private subcontractor hired by the Aloha Stadium Authority to handle concessions at the state-owned facility, notified lei vendors in an April 29 letter that, for the first time, a $100-per-event fee will be charged to sell lei. In addition, the vendors will be allowed to sell lei and hand bouquets only if they are made of fresh flowers.

Carolyn Tanaka, of the public relations firm McNeil Wilson Communications, said that last year 25 to 30 vendors sold lei but that so far this year, with the new rules in place, only seven to nine vendors have shown interest in participating.

Tanaka, who returned calls made to the Stadium Authority, said restrictions have been placed on balloons, money lei, and lei made of cans or bottled beverages. Vendors must carry their own liability insurance.

Tanaka said the new fees will cover the costs of providing security, a tent for each vendor, electricity and signage, all of which have been added for the first time. Vendors will be required to have a state general excise tax license this year, she said.

Karen Larco, a longtime stadium vendor who has specialized in novelty lei made of yarn and ribbons, was at first told she could not sell those mementos any longer, but yesterday she was told that the rules have been changed to let her participate.

Larco, who has been making this year's line of keepsake lei at home for months, turning them out in school colors, spent about $200 on supplies, intending to sell her product to supplement her income. She was notified in an April 29 letter that only fresh-flower lei and bouquets could be sold.

"In years past, the Aloha Stadium oversaw the vendor process and there were no fees," Larco said. "But this year, out of the blue ... they brought in a subcontractor (Volume Services America) and began charging $100 per event or $350 for all four graduations. A person would have to sell 70 lei just to break even."

Larco said many of her friends who sell candy lei and seed lei, balloons and teddy bears are not so lucky and remain banned from the stadium.

Lois Sismar, Hawai'i regional manager for Volume Services, did not return repeated calls from The Advertiser.

Tanaka said the stadium's previous policy was mainly meant to be a convenience to the schools. The fee and new guidelines are designed to keep the lei vending under better control, she said.

Graduation ceremonies for Mililani, Pearl City, Radford and Campbell high schools are planned at the stadium May 31 and June 1, 2 and 8, respectively.

Last month the University of Hawai'i-Manoa announced it would begin charging a vendor fee of $30 or $75 this year, depending on location, for booths to sell lei at graduation ceremonies. The university also limited the number of vendors and where and what they can sell.

Roy Benham had sold lei at UH for several years, but pulled out this year after being told of the fee and area restrictions.

"Selling lei at graduation is a long-standing tradition," Benham said. "It is losing something. Everything you've got to pay for now.

"I remember the lei sellers along Aloha Tower. They never paid for that space. It was part of (boat days) and it is also part of the graduation."

Benham said the lei business has always operated on a slim margin and relied on economies of "free" labor and barter. In many lei-making families, children and grandchildren help out; some materials, such as ti leaf, may be gathered for free from the property of friends and neighbors.

The city charges lei vendors $20 for two stalls per event at the Blaisdell Center, and $75 if they want the stalls for all 14 graduation ceremonies scheduled there this season. At the Waikiki Shell, also run by the city, vendors pay $25 for a booth for each of the four ceremonies scheduled there.

Greg Knudsen, state Department of Education spokesman, said few schools that hold ceremonies on campus charge lei vendors but some ask that the vendors operate off school grounds.

"If they charge vendors, that would increase lei prices, which would be paid for by the parents of public-school students," Knudsen said.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.