story by Harriet Baskas
photo by Julie Sotomura
In 1962, the gift shop at the Seattle World’s Fair Hawai‘i pavilion offered visitors a chance to take home such curios as aloha shirts and mu‘umu‘u, macadamia nuts and LPs (the vinyl kind) of Hawaiian music. Though Hawai‘i had been a state for three years, these products—and much of Island culture—still seemed mysterious to Pacific Northwest residents.
In 1998, when Honolulu native Gail Stringer couldn’t find a fresh lei in the Emerald City, she understood that Hawaiian products were still considered exotic treats. Thinking she couldn’t be the only Hawai‘i expat in Seattle missing home, Stringer opened the Hawai‘i General Store & Gallery. Today, the vibrant music-, food- and art-filled shop imports a wide array of merchandise made in Hawai‘i and serves as a gathering place for both homesick Islanders and Seattle residents seeking an infusion of aloha spirit. On the bulletin board are flyers for Hawaiian music concerts and events; the store often welcomes visiting Hawaiian artists and authors and hosts classes in Hawaiian language, lei-making and other Island-related arts.
In true general store fashion, visitors find a little of everything. A CD of slack key guitar from the shop’s extensive Hawaiian music section plays. In one corner, a replica Island snack shop with a corrugated roof houses jars filled with dried and preserved fruits (called “crackseed” in local parlance), and a cooler stocked with fresh poi, cans of Hawaiian Sun drinks and plenty of fragrant lei. “We get a shipment of close to 100 lei every Thursday,” says store manager Kiapu Wolfe, “but during graduation season, there are so many special orders that we get four or more deliveries a week.” Beneath a mural of the Ko‘olau mountains is an assortment of everything from Island-made soaps and lotions to aloha wear, Hawaiian quilts, jewelry, paintings and koa furniture. Located at 258 NE 45th St. in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, the store is an oasis. For some, though, it’s just not enough to slake their thirst for Hawaiiana, so it’s a good thing that HGS Travel, which specializes in Hawaiian vacations, has its headquarters (well, two desks) nestled in a corner of the store, right by the tiki party supplies.
Hawai‘i General Store & Gallery