KAHULUI - Saturday was a bittersweet day for longtime Maui Swap Meet vendor Bren Bailey.
The next time she sets up her collection of vintage Hawaiiana prints, dolls and collectors' items, it will be at the swap meet's new location on the Kahului Harbor side of Maui Community College instead of the longtime Puunene Avenue site.
"It's difficult to leave here," she said. "This is my spot."
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Julie Richman of Haiku shops for produce at the swap meet stand operated by Alfredo and Wilfreda Bumanglag on Saturday afternoon, the last day for the popular weekly event on the Puunene Avenue property next to the Kahului Post Office. Beginning on Saturday, the swap meet will be held in a water retention basin on the Kahului Harbor side of Maui Community College.
For 28 years, Bailey has been under the ironwood trees near the Kahului swimming pool selling her wares, but Saturday was the swap meet's last day at the 4.5-acre Puunene Avenue site owned by Alexander & Baldwin next to the Kahului Post Office.
The property has been eyed for years for a county senior housing project and for county offices for housing, immigrant assistance and the Community Development Block Grant program. On Sunday, county spokeswoman Mahina Martin said the county is continuing to review its options for development of the property.
Wil Wong, president of swap meet operator Maui Exposition, has been working for years to find a new, better location.
"For me, it's a big burden off of me," he said. "If you've seen the new site, (it's like) night and day."
Beginning on Saturday, the swap meet will make its permanent home on a 4.5-acre site at the college, with paved pathways, an entrance ramp for people with disabilities and more than twice as much parking for the popular event. Motor vehicle access to the new location is via the Maui Community College parking lot entrance at Wahinepio Street, across from the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The swap meet is open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Admission for customers is 50 cents.
Vendor Anna Decarlo of Kihei said she wasn't sure what to think about the new site, as she hasn't been there yet. For several weeks, a Sunday swap meet has been held at the new MCC site.
"I hope it's going to be nice," she said.
Decarlo said she was worried tourists wouldn't know about the swap meet's relocation, as her sales come from visitors buying her painted coconuts, baby T-shirts and ornaments.
But other vendors and the swap meet operator are pleased to be moving.
"It's so exciting because we have been here for so long" said Kula farmer Woody Goble, of Goble's Haw'n Flower Farm. "The other place is just beautiful."
Another vendor, Stanley Bartlett, said the new site will be more like a community market, and he's not troubled by the move.
"I'm an agent of change," Bartlett said at his space, where he sells glass, beads and crystal jewelry from Guatemala.
Wong said the new site has 800 parking stalls available for customers. The Puunene Avenue site had only 300 stalls on the property. Customers also used overflow parking across Kamehameha Avenue from the Aloha Shell service station. But people had to cross that busy street to get to the swap meet.
Although the MCC site is a water retention basin that floods about six times a year, Wong said wet weather shouldn't be a problem. If it rains heavily as it did this past weekend, he said he can hold the swap meet on higher ground at the MCC parking lot.
Wong said his 200-plus vendors will follow him to the new site, so customers should expect their regular vendors to show up.
But one thing Wong will not have, at least for now, is his garlic noodle concession, which he decided to discontinue because of high supply costs and his dissatisfaction with the quality of food he was offering.
"Garlic noodles and chow fun were a big hit," he said. "I don't know if we are going to offer it."
Instead, Wong said he will try working with two food vendors, and with MCC culinary students who will sell coffee and an entree to swap meet customers.
Earlier this year, swap meet vendors were charged $35 per day, with those holding "garage sales" paying $25. Those prices are going up somewhat to help Wong pay increased expenses, but he didn't say exactly what the new vendor prices would be.
He said that it cost him nearly half a million dollars to develop the new site, which has permanent ticket kiosks designed to blend in visually with buildings at the college. There also are concrete columns that break up the monotony of the chain-link fence.
The new location's paved walkways make walking easier for customers, he said. The old site had gravel, which made it hard for those in wheelchairs and those with canes and walkers.
The swap meet has been ongoing for 28 years, and Wong started it with 25 vendors in the old Kahului Fairgrounds. About a decade later, he moved the swap meet across the street, next to the Kahului Post Office.
Wong said he was appreciative of his customers and vendors.
"A lot of vendors stuck with me for a long time. The people supported me" through the years, he said.
One of those vendors is Bailey.
"I started the first day (of the swap meet) across the street," she said on Saturday.
She then sold hubcaps her sons got from the rubbish dump. She also sold old license plates, which she still carries.
"I hardly miss a day," Bailey said.
Goble is also a swap meet veteran, having spent 27 years at the gathering.
Other than a small mail-order business for his flowers, the swap meet is the only place he sells his protea, ginger, calla lilies and other fragrant blossoms.
Alaska visitor Linda Penney said she has been coming to Maui many years, but Saturday was her first time to the swap meet.
She was buying a bunch of protea and red ginger from Goble.
"I'm loving it," she said.
For more information on the swap meet, call 877-3100 or go online to www.mauiexposition.com.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.