Business Monday: Ah Lan’s Lei Stand in Hilo provides fresh handmade lei to Big Island and at annual Merrie Monarch Festival

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Lei are seemingly everywhere you look during the annual weeklong Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo on the Big Island.

The colorful and often fragrant flower garlands are worn by the hula dancers who grace the Merrie Monarch stage and those dancing in other unofficial exhibitions and events throughout the East Hawai’i community. You’ll also see them around the necks of kumu hula (hula teachers), musicians, judges, dignitaries and a host of others.

They even adorn horses as they march in the Merrie Monarch Royal Parade.

Lei also are a staple at the annual Merrie Monarch Hawaiian Arts and Crafts Fair. Several vendors offer a multitude of loose flowers and handmade lei for sale to the masses.

Lana Haasenritter is the owner of Ah Lan’s Lei Stand in Hilo. The business has been in her family for 5 generations. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

One of them is Ah Lan’s Lei Stand of Hilo.

Owner Lana Haasenritter couldn’t recall exactly how long but said Ah Lan’s has been a vendor at craft fairs during the festival since they were first hosted in downtown Hilo and a facet of the official arts and crafts fair at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium and Butler Buildings for more than a decade.


Ah Lan’s will be back at the festival for 4 days this year. The lei stand has a booth at the arts and crafts fair and a spot outside the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium during the festival’s world-renowned hula competition.

Named after Haasenritter’s mother, Ah Lan’s Lei Stand was established in 1943 at the old Hilo airport terminal by her grandmother Rebecca Tim Sing. It moved into the existing terminal at Hilo International Airport after it was built and is now located at the southeast end of the facility near the taxi lanes.

Ah Lan’s Lei Stand was named after owner Lana Haasenritter’s mother, Ah Lan Hiro, who is pictured here. (Image from the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand website)

It was previously located at a site across from the airport restaurant.

The stand evolved from Tim Sing’s endeavors in the early 1940s selling lei made with flowers from her own Keaukaha yard, draped over her arms, to Lurline Cruise Line passengers as they disembarked at the Port of Hilo. She passed on her talents to her children and grandchildren, who continue to teach the next generation the art of making lei.

Ah Lan’s has been in business for five generations. Two of Haasenritter’s sisters continue to help, as well as her daughter, grandchildren and other family members.


They also now have a second location on Lama Street in Hilo.

Even her sister on the mainland continues making lei, and if she can’t find flowers, she makes candy lei.

Haasenritter said they were taught the art as soon as they started walking. Picking flowers, prepping them and making lei were like chores she and her sisters had to finish before they could play with the other keiki from their grandmother’s neighborhood.

“It’s just a way of life for us because that’s how we grew up,” Haasenritter said. “It’s in our blood to provide lei and carry on the tradition. We just take it wherever we go.”

All of the fresh lei Ah Lan’s sells are handmade, with Haasenritter still making about 70% of them herself. When it gets really busy, her husband or other family members help.


They are weaved together daily. Some can take less than 10 minutes while others can take hours, depending on the type of flower or plant material she’s using.

Haasenritter mostly uses flowers and other materials picked from her own yard, a friend’s yard and a Big Island farm. Orchids, carnations and ti leaves are the most popular, and lei can be custom-made for any occasion.

They also can be scent-free, with red ginger, crown flower and other options, for those who cannot have fragrance, such as people with allergies.

About 90% of the stand’s business comes from the Big Island.

People buy lei for all sorts of celebrations. In fact, Merrie Monarch is smack-dab in the middle of Haasenritter’s busiest 2 to 3 months of the year. Not only has she been fielding calls and orders for the annual festival for the past two months already, but she’s also been working on orders for everything from high school proms and graduations to Lei Day and Mother’s Day.

Lana Haasenritter, owner of Ah Lan’s Lei Stand, helps customer Hiwa Helenihi of Hilo, who was at the stand to purchase a lei for her father’s birthday. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

“The whole month of May is slamming,” she said.

Hiwa Helenihi of Hilo stopped by the stand recently to purchase a lei for her dad for his birthday. Every time her family has a party, she stops by to get the lei she needs. She also likes to support local businesses.

“I like native plants, flowers, lei,” said Helenihi, adding Ah Lan’s has what she wants. “Also, it’s very convenient for me to just drive through, pick up my lei, and then gotta go where I have to go.”

DJ from Pāhoa said in a Yelp review not to waste your time looking for another lei stand. Ah Lan’s is the place to go.

“Lana is perfect to help you with your selections, especially if you need a last-minute order. She will make it happen,” said the Puna resident. “The leis are beautifully crafted with a lot of Aloha. And that is important when you want to gift someone with a lei. Lana herself is warm, personable and full of joy. She just makes you feel good about your choices to fit the occasion. That is why she’s been a staple for us here who live on the Big Island.”

The stand also offers other options such as artificial lei for those who don’t want fresh and ribbon lei. Haasenritter, however, purchases those instead of making them.

It has seasonal lei, everlasting lei and lei that can be shipped, as well, along with lei po‘o, or flower headbands.

Elena Nagamine, right, helps a customer while manning the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand booth at the 2022 Merrie Monarch Hawaiian Arts and Crafts Fair at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo. (Big Island Now file photo)

During Merrie Monarch, the Ah Lan’s booths at the arts and crafts fair and at the stadium also offer loose flowers you can hold or wear behind your ear, hairpieces and other items.

She and her family crew are very busy during the festival, but that’s why Haasenritter does her homework to make sure they have enough to last the four days they are there. They don’t get a lot of time for anything else either, because it’s “boom, boom, boom, boom.”

“It’s hard to look up and actually enjoy,” she said about being at Merrie Monarch. “You have to be ready for the first 3 or 4 hours, then after that, you can relax and talk.”

Haasenritter said it’s hard just to talk to other vendors.

But they are there to make sure everyone has the freshest lei available. After all, lei are an expression of love and Ah Lan’s is happy to provide them.

Like many of those who attend and participate in the festival and its events, she and her family members who help at the Merrie Monarch booths also enjoy reconnecting with people.

“We become friends with our fellow vendors. It’s fun,” Haasenritter said. “We see people that we haven’t seen in a year.”

When they do get a chance to take a breather, they are enthralled with the scenes just like everyone else watching in person or from afar.

“It’s fun to see everything, what everybody’s wearing, the lei they adorn themselves with and stuff,” said Haasenritter. “It’s just fun to be in it, to be surrounded by it. Even if I can’t see the event, I can hear everything because I’m right outside the stadium. So you feel the intensity.”

Be sure to stop by the Ah Lan’s booth and all the other lei, craft, art and food vendors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday during this year’s Merrie Monarch Hawaiian Arts and Crafts Fair at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium and adjacent Butler Buildings.

For more information about what the lei stand has to offer or to make an order, visit Ah Lan’s website, stop by the stand at the Hilo airport, or call 808-895-0651 or 808-935-6989.

You can also follow the lei stand on Facebook and Instagram.

  • Plumeria and orchid lei. (Image from the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand website)
  • Examples of other lei available at Ah Lan’s Lei Stand in Hilo. (Image from the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand website)
  • Orchid lei. (Image from the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand website)
  • Multi-colored orchid headband. (Image from the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand website)
  • Maile lei. (Image from the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand website)
  • A headband around a hat. (Image from the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand website)
  • Headband and everlasting lei. (Image from the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand website)
Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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