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January 13, 2009

History and discounts galore

January 13. Day 197.

It really is a brilliant idea.

Take any run down main street built before 1948. Throw in a few boutiques or craft shops, hang up some messy but romantic looking plants from porch ceilings or rails, open a cafe or diner with lace curtains or a more modern "concept." Chairs with legs shaped like crayons? Plates that look like buttons? Let's get funky!

Renovate one unique attraction -- a sawmill, a swinging bridge, a barn-turned-billiard bar. Then hang up a wooden placard 300 feet before the turnoff announcing your new Historic District, and people will come.

People like me. I eat that stuff right up. I will drive for miles to walk two blocks, and I leave with souvenirs. Always.

Perhaps I unwittingly (now, wittingly) pine for those distant cities where everything is a historic district, where the entire country's past is as useful and evident as its present.

Or maybe I'm just a sucker for oldie-cutsie-kitsch.

And so it happens that Historic Hanapepe was a must-see in Tuesday's romp on the western island. We pulled up into an overgrown, weedy parking lot at sighed at how cute it was, entered an overpriced antique store and gushed at the cute merchandise, then crossed the cute street and entered a cute jewelry shop, a cuter bookstore, a boutique that sold tuck-behind-your-ear flowers that were so... cute!!!

Along the way, I asked for two discounts and got both.

In the jewelry shop, my cousin found two bracelets, one coral and one pearl, and I dutifully butted in.

"What's the total?"


"Can she get both for $15?"


In the bookstore, I found three items of interest. Eat, Pray, Love for my cousin, since we'd just been talking about Indonesia and she was looking for something new to read. A primer on seashells for myself. And a book about trails and hiking in Kauai for Mr. A. (Now you know half of your present!)

The total was $17.50, and I got it down to $15. Symbolic, but what's wrong with that?

Gained in Historic Hanapepe: $5.

After a disappointing drive up a mountain (the fog and rain erased all panoramic views and made it unsafe to walk down to the river), we made our way to the Hawaiian Trading Post, in a neighboring town, which specializes in Tahitian pearls.

I spotted a very long strand for a good price -- $18, on sale from $36, and cheaper for that quality than what I've seen on the mainland. (As much as I love historic districts, I love pearls even more. Natural beauty, versatility, and ocean provenance. Loooove.)

Just for fun, I asked the price on a stunning black pearl ring, and the woman quoted half amount on the price tag. Clearly, this was either clearance time, or they liked the "I make special deal for you" approach.

I brought the strand to the counter and tried this:

"Could I have these for $15?"


The store was run by a batallion of expert saleswomen, all from Asia, all with glasses and impeccable haircuts. They knew pearls like I know parking tickets. But a friend who's constantly traveling to Hong Kong and picking up pearly delicacies in the markets there told me to always, always bargain down and bargain hard in places like this. More power to the bigger bitch. If you don't bargain or act all sweet, they basically don't respect you. Oh, and you're overpaying.

"Well," I snapped, "I do know how much these sell for in Hong Kong. Come on. $15 is a great price for you."

"Hong Kong?!" she said, and chortled.

Gained II: The billious scorn of a high seas pearl trader.
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