Written by Viola Gaskel
Forty-one years ago Wil Wong started the Maui Swap Meet at the Maui County Fairgrounds. “I mean, it’s the oldest market on Maui,” says vendor Lia Webber, who’s been selling her banana bread and Hawaiian toffee at the market for 12 years. Wil can’t confirm that 100 percent, “but I’m pretty sure that’s correct,” he says.
Fourteen years ago the market moved to the University of Hawaii Maui Campus, where it’s been ever since. “This tree was just a sapling tied to a stick when I first set up at this spot,” says Lia, of the giant monkeypod overhead, “we’re lucky that we stuck with it because now we have this beautiful shade.” Her daughters grew up coming to the swap meet. “It’s been my primary income since I was pregnant with her,” says Lia pointing to her 11-year-old.
Over time, the market has become more and more geared towards tourists, but it has a strong following of local early birds who come mostly for affordable local produce, potted plants and starts, cut flowers, and Lia’s banana bread, which she still sells to her oldest customer at her original five dollars a loaf. For everyone else, the price is still reasonable at $8 a loaf.
The number of farmers who sell at the market varies. Wil says there are a few dozen who usually set up in the back row, though some Saturdays there might be fewer than ten, and many of them sell out early and pack up by mid-morning.
Lita Corpuz of Maui Greens Market has been selling vegetables and dragonfruit from her farm in Wailuku at the swap meet for 11 years. Lita, who is Filipino, says about half of her customers are Filipino locals who come to her for ingredients for dishes like palong. “We sell all the Filipino vegetables,” she explains, “eggplant, wing bean, that kind of thing. And our pineapples are $3.50 each — cheaper than Costco!”
Some farmers have been selling at the market for nearly as long as it’s been open. “The Shishido family, who have a farm up in Kula, have been coming to the swap meet for maybe 35 years; and Woody Gobul, the protea farmer, must have been selling protea at the meet for at least that long,” Wil says.
With low start-up costs and a chance to determine the market for their products, Will says dozens of businesses that have started out at the swap meet, “maybe more than dozens, I lost track already,” he says with a laugh.
Maui Balsamic Vinegar Co. was one of those businesses. “It’s the largest open market on Maui, and the most well-known, it’s where we started,” says owner Paul Manzano. Maui Balsamic Vinegar Co. makes their own reductions, and uses seasonal Hawaiʻi-grown fruit when they can. Lilikoi and mango balsamic vinegar are today’s local fruit options.
Many of the 200-some tents offer trinkets, jewelry and art, but others sell more unique items, from sculptures made from driftwood to ukulele, vintage Aloha shirts, handmade natural soaps, and upcycled burlap bags made from Hawaii coffee sacks. Food options vary from plate lunch truck Augustina’s Grindz, complete with lumpia and other Filipino options, to resplendent shaved ice and Maui Macaroons.
“I’m really proud of this location, and the way it’s set up,” says Wil. “I’ve been to a lot of farmers markets on Oʻahu, and the swap meet there, and I’ve been to the Hilo market, and I don’t think there’s a market that could compare with what we have as far as the ambiance and the quality of vendors — it’s just a great place to be.”
Kahului Swap Meet, Saturdays, 7am-1pm
University of Hawaii Maui Campus (lot nearest to Kahului Beach rd.)
310 Kaahumanu Rd., Kahului, HI 96732
Vendor Contact: 808-244-3100
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