Parts of Hawai‘i’s flower industry were already in slow decline when the pandemic hit, drastically altering large gatherings like graduations, weddings and funerals, where lei and flowers play a big role. Some people worry that social distancing and the fear of catching a virus may forever threaten one of Hawai‘i’s most beloved traditions: the giving of lei and the embrace that follows.
Local companies are also adapting to the new reality with services like shop from home, contactless delivery and curbside pickup, and owners remain hopeful that flowers and the joy they bring will remain an important part of people’s lives.
“I was here for the beginning to where it is right now,” says Karen Lee, who runs Cindy’s Lei and Flower Shoppe in Chinatown. She fears the lei tradition will fade as a result of this latest business downturn. “We’ve had to reevaluate our position not only as a small business but what we contribute to the community for this lei that we create and sell. The lei is such a big part of people’s milestones.”
Lee acknowledges that her business, which has been around for four generations, is on precarious ground. “Before, we were able to make a lot of random decisions and we were able to recover,” she says. “That’s not the case now: Every decision is important.”
The annual statistical summary of Hawai‘i’s horticulture and nursery products from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture has shown a slow decline since 2014 in the lei and cut flowers category, while other areas of the nursery industry have grown, such as garden and potted flowering plants.