Nothing Says Love Like A Lei

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - January 07, 2009
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Three generations of the Reiplinger family: Kaualoku Silva, Moani Silva, Holly Reiplinger, Dede Reiplinger, Joe Takahashi and Nate Lau

Holly Reiplinger zips around her Po’ohala Lei and Flowers shop greeting customers, stringing lei, answering the phone and sharing aloha.

“Lei are always a nice occasion,” says Reiplinger. “It is just love. The quality of our lei is outstanding. We take great pride in what we do.”

The Kamehameha Schools Song Contest kicks off the shop’s busy season in March, which continues through July. In addition to proms, a major job at the store is mailing lei to the Mainland for graduation. There’s also May Day, Mother’s Day and local college graduations to keep the shop active. December also is a busy time for the shop.

Some of the most popular lei are tuberose combinations, such as tuberose with carnation or orchid.

“Gingers are always popular, whether it’s single gingers or feathered gingers,” she says. “Double ginger is kind of taking the place of the old-time double carnation. That’s like our queen lei, our majestic lei. We usually carry it in the shop, but it’s best to special order it.”

Other popular lei include hala, and the seasonal pakalana and puakenikeni. “Pikake is always popular no matter what time of year,” adds the Punahou graduate.

The shop’s name, po’ohala, means to carry on the virtues and skills of the family, which is what Reiplinger is doing in more ways than one. Her goal is to use only locally grown flowers. “We would like to support our local growers as much as possible because we are all struggling. I don’t want to see our own flowers disappear. We have enough things disappearing. As it is, ilima is hard to get because the people who do it now are older and it is too much work. Flowers are such a big part of Hawaii.”

She hopes the next generation will step up so there will be more harder-to-find blossoms available.

Reiplinger is setting a good example by carrying on the tradition herself as the shop, then called Sweetheart’s Lei Shop, was owned previously by her father- and mother-in-law, Henry and Elizabeth “Sweetheart” Lau, from 1982 to 2005. Two weeks after Sweetheart’s Lei Shop closed, Reiplinger, her brother- and sister-in-law reopened it as Po’ohala Lei and Flowers.

When her brother-in-law passed away, Reiplinger carried on the legacy as sole owner with the love and aloha of a multitude friends and family. Reiplinger’s children, Nate, Deacon and Moani, continue to donate their time to lend a hand, along with many in their ohana.

“They are willing to help,” she says. “I don’t even call them. They just show up in shifts and they come when they can. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Reiplinger, a Waialae resident, has been surrounded by the Hawaiian culture her entire life as she grew up in the entertainment business. Her brother was famous local comedian Rap Reiplinger. Her grandmother started the Royal Hawaiian Girls Glee Club, and her mom was a dancer in the Kodak Hula Show. Reiplinger’s career path includes dancing hula and office work. She learned to string lei and different aspects of the business by helping out at Sweetheart’s Lei Shop.

“You don’t really learn until it’s all your own,” she admits.

What began as an unusual request is now more common - lei for dogs when the owners get married. “Dogs are a part of the family,” explains Reiplinger. “We’ve never had any cat leis, but we’ve done horses for parades.”

Another special request she fulfills is sending lei and flowers to transplanted Islanders who may be in hospice. People want to send fragrant lei to their friends to make their rooms smell like Hawaii. “You’re helping a little bit to give someone those nice memories, and it may be their last.”

Po’ohala Lei and Flowers keeps family and cultural traditions alive. “The people that we meet here, it’s our version of the Cheers bar,” says Reiplinger. “It’s a combination of the culture we are trying to share, and the customer service we give that people just come back, and they share a part of our big family. Then they become a part of our ohana.”

Po’ohala Lei & Flowers is located at 69 N. Beretania St. The hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 537-3011.

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