On a typical Sunday morning in Chinatown, you’ll see people tugging their carts of fresh produce and speciality items, store owners moving busily about their compact spaces and clouds of deliciously-smelling steam wafting from various manapua shops and cutleries. This past Sunday, however, it was the floral shop owners who kept the busiest, restocking their refrigerators as customers shuffled in and out of the tiny stores in search of the perfect Mother’s Day lei.
A handmade lei of orchids and ferns from Island Gifts & Flowers in Chinatown.
One of the shop owners I spoke with told me they’re used to the madness – Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, May Day or graduation season are all centered around aromatic strands of lei and fresh blossom bouquets. In Hawaii, it’s common to honor our mothers with a lei. Some people choose their lei by the type of flowers used, while others choose them by visual appearance. My sister and I searched for the one that had the sweetest smell and ended up with a beautiful lei woven with orchids and tuberose. Typically, tuberose, plumeria, puakenikeni and ginger have the h3est fragrance. But according to the shop owner I talked to, tourists mostly prefer to have plumeria lei.
Plumeria flowers color the islands with its yellow, pink and red varieties.
Flower shops can be found on almost every corner of Chinatown; look for the buckets of bouquets outside or strands of lei hanging at the shady storefront entrances. Lei are generally much cheaper than the ones in supermarkets; plus, they come from smalltime local businesses, so it’s always good to buy local! I like watching the ladies in the back stringing flowers into lei because it always reminds me of a mini lei-making factory.
Sadly, I just heard on the news that some grocery stores have been selling lei with PLASTIC FLOWERS in between real ones and not notifying customers. Stores have been charging the same, if not more, than the price of a real lei ($10). This is more than sneaky sales tactics; it’s a disgrace to the culture and disrespectful to whomever the lei is given. I’d be offended if I received a fake lei like that.
Fresh bouquets can be made upon request. This is the ever-so-tropical Bird of Paradise.
Here’s a list of several lei and flower shops in Chinatown that sell REAL flower lei. Be sure to check them out when you’re on vacation. My aunty always buys lei when they’re here, and after wearing it around, they leave it in their hotel room to keep the sweet smell around. These list of shops are also a good place to start if you’re planning a Hawaii wedding and looking for fresh flowers at an affordable price.
CINDY’S LEI & FLOWER SHOPPE • 1034 Maunakea St., Honolulu, HI 96817 • 808-536-6538
LIN’S LEI SHOP • 1017 Maunakea St., Honolulu, HI 96817 • 808-537-4112
SHIRLEY’S FLOWERS • 1176-C Maunakea St., Honolulu, HI 96817 • 808-536-2218
LITA’S LEI • 59 N. Beretania St., Honolulu, HI 96817 • 808-521-9065
ISLAND GIFTS & FLOWERS • 69 N. Beretania St., Honolulu, HI 96817 • 808-537-5347
VIOLET LEI STAND • 1165 Maunakea St., Honolulu, HI 96817 • 808-537-1106