Highway hawking: West Hawaii vendors push limits with roadside retail

  • Vendors and fundraisers sell their goods Saturday on Queen Kaahumanu Highway. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Jonas Mahoe and Hannah Merril often spend their Saturdays fishing — in the proverbial sense. Their targets aren’t ono or ahi, but people. And their lures are about as sweet as bait gets: cases of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Mahoe and Merril are part of Holoholo Ministries, a Christian-based nonprofit organization affiliated with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) that sets up snorkel outings and boogie board days for local people with special needs, among several other endeavors.


“Holoholo means … to go,” Mahoe said. “We use that in our church to be fishers of men.”

While some of the nonprofit activities funded by the doughnuts Mahoe and Merril sell to passing motorists are water-based, they conduct their “fishing” on land, specifically on a tract of earth off the makai side Queen Kaahumanu Highway fronting Kona Hawaii Temple — a Mormon temple with which Holoholo Ministries is not affiliated.

The only problem is Holoholo Ministries and other vendors that frequently set up alongside them aren’t technically supposed to be there.

Hawaii Revised Statute 264-101 prohibits vending along state highways, which is only allowed if a vendor is granted a special permit. Yet sellers have been carrying on the practice for years on the stretch of state highway in question, as well as at other roadside locations like the intersection of Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Hina Lani Street near Costco and spots farther south stretching into Kealakekua.

Just another market

Holoholo Ministries isn’t the only familiar roadside vendor that sets up shop on the busy strip of Kailua-Kona’s primary thoroughfare. Some weekends it is joined only by one or two other vendors, most of which operate as small entrepreneurial enterprises rather than fundraising efforts.

Other weekends, several vendors set up shop, creating a veritable roadside swap meet selling everything from fruits and vegetables to wares like clothing and guitars. Sometimes, even puppies are up for sale.

Merril said the makeshift flea market off the highway has been a weekend fixture ever since she moved to the island four years ago. Mahoe said it’s actually been around much longer than that, tracing its roots back roughly a decade.

“This is one of the most artsy, hand-crafted places I’ve lived,” Merril said. “I think if you’re from here then you know when (certain vendors) are going to come and you plan around that.”

Both Mahoe and another seller, who often frequent the roadside strip but asked to remain anonymous for this report, said they’ve been served with public notices from the state District Engineer asking them to remove their stands and citing Hawaii Revised Statutes applicable to outdoor vending and outdoor advertising. Both said they last received those notices years ago.

“Illegal vending can create a hazardous condition or a public nuisance,” Tim Sakahara, public information officer with the Hawaii Department of Transportation, wrote in an email. “HDOT issues notices to vendors who operate illegally within HDOT jurisdiction and will work with the County of Hawaii Police Department on enforcement.”

“Customers should avoid stopping at illegal vendors along the highway for their own safety and to help deter the vendors from setting up,” Sakahara continued.

Yet Merril and other vendors say regular customers have come to rely on the roadside market. And Mahoe said the police, for their part, aren’t particularly concerned with residents trying to make an honest buck.

“The cops are fine,” Mahoe said.

“I want them to pull over,” he added, saying police tend to be affable and sometimes buy his doughnuts.

Maj. Robert Wagner, of the Hawaii Police Department, said rules about permits and what can and can’t be sold on roadsides varies from the state to the county. County rules are more relaxed, he explained, and added the department’s approach to roadside vending is more reactive than proactive.


“If somebody makes a complaint that says people are vending in a certain place without a permit, then we check it out,” Wagner said. “We won’t just randomly stop and ask people for their permits.”

Wagner did not attribute any traffic incidents to the weekend roadside market on Queen Kaahumanu Highway and said he was “not familiar with any complaints within the last year” made to HPD.

  1. Big ideas January 26, 2018 6:37 am

    These street side vendors and sign waving political types create a traffic mess for the rest of us trying to get to and from our jobs and chores. We need stricter enforcement of existing laws and rules.

  2. lownoisehighsignal January 26, 2018 7:21 am

    ‘And Mahoe said the police, for their part, aren’t particularly concerned with residents trying to make an honest buck.’ Since when is squatting on someone’s land ‘honest?’

    1. Joan Sheldon January 26, 2018 7:38 am

      Go back to the mainland…. opwnoisehighsignal. People in Hawaii still share…. they are not divided like: “this is all mine, don’t touch it”

      1. Brenda Smith Hack January 27, 2018 7:49 am

        So true, live and let live, no wonder mainlanders come to catch a breath. Hang loose, and breath

    2. laakoc January 26, 2018 10:08 am

      and…with some selling prepared foods, how many have been inspected and have the necessary permits. If you are selling without the proper permits, it’s not honest. It does add to the congestion in that area with people braking to look or slam on their brakes to suddenly pull over. I have seen kids sign waving and wonder, what if a driver accidentally goes over the line, although probably not common, is a possibility when looking over. There are farmers markets all over during the week and on weekends – South Kona, Ocean View, HPM, Alii (both north and south), Keauhou. Let’s free up the roadways.

      1. Mauka Tom January 26, 2018 10:15 am

        I think Caveat Emptor applies in the case of streetside vendors. Enforcing a bunch of regulations on these tiny-scale operators would just put them out of business. It’s a vibrant slice of local culture; no need to quash it because of overblown fears of traffic congestion.

      2. KonaLife January 26, 2018 12:45 pm

        Oh, yes, let’s inspect those doughnuts! C’mon, The police have said there are no problems with complaints and there have been no traffic incidents. There is no problem other that your “what if” scenarios (all imagined because the data shows nothing has happened). Let’s let a bit a entrepreneurship live. As for the sign wavers, I disagree with a lot of what they say, but I’m glad they are our there participating in the democratic process. I’d hate to live in a place where we restrict the exercise of these rights.

  3. Mauka Tom January 26, 2018 10:09 am

    Eh, who cares, really? It’s not hurting anyone. Show me the data that proves it increases accidents.

    We don’t need rules and regulations for every little thing. The police really here really have bigger issues to worry about.

  4. Kaipo Wall January 26, 2018 10:16 am

    The ‘political types’ , previously Occupy Kona and currently the Women’s March group , openly and blatantly stand on the roadway , all the way up to the white line and often over it , sticking their signs in drivers faces and obscuring the drivers view of the curve ahead . These people will even ;park babies in strollers on the roadway . Making it completely impossible for drivers to pull over in the event of the frequent emergency vehicles . Their demonstrations force mopeds and bicyclists to also use the main traffic lane . But that is all ok because THEY get to express their 1st Amendment rights ( while endangering others . Of note is that the previous Kona Tea Party roadside demonstrations in this same locations were well self-policed and all demonstrators were kept completely off the paved portion of the roadway altogether . Completely different comportment . HPD , when questioned about the current roadside political behaviors equivocate and obfuscate entirely as to whether it is legal or not . Take one look at who is in charge in Honolulu to figure out why they hesitate to enforce clear and obvious public safety laws . It’s a genuine Auwe situation .

  5. Buds4All January 26, 2018 11:05 am

    Perhaps we should have the Free Market in Old A area on weekends?

  6. wahineilikea January 26, 2018 12:23 pm

    Those people selling puppies there are a disgrace – poor puppies, crammed into hot pens and hawked to passing cars. And as for the YWAM scammers – it’s highly unlikely that they are raising money for what they say in the article. It’s undoubtedly for the outrageous fees that YWAM extracts from their acolytes – every one of those students is required to bring in a large sum of money raised from family friends and donate it to the “ministry.”

    1. Bruddah Jonas January 27, 2018 12:15 am

      Aloha everybody, I’m Jonas Mahoe. I’m a local braddah born and raised right here in Kona. First and foremost I want to apologize to whomever I may have offended….friends, family, the police department and the people of West Hawaii.

      I believe in serving and giving back to our Kona community. The funds we raise allow us opportunity to tutor at our local high schools, staff youth camps, host scholarship events, volunteer in beach or street cleanup days and putting on local seminars.

      For the past 4 years our sport events have provided three $500 scholarships a year. Each scholarship provides financial aid furthering education to graduates from West Hawaii.

      We also provide a service for people with disabilities like myself, to have access to the ocean to enjoy fun snorkel days twice a month.

      This past fall semester we provided 150 meals once a week to the youth of West Hawaii.

      We also go overseas and help people who are less fortunate than us such as supporting orphanages and providing man power to assist cleanup and rebuilding projects after natural disasters.

      I’m proud to be part of a community that supports itself. And buying doughnuts from me gives that opportunity to do so. I’m out there to make a difference. Mahalo.

      1. oh_yes_yes_yes January 27, 2018 7:08 am

        Generally, I like to see the roadside vending, especially during lychee season. I do believe that it should be a viable way to sell your backyard produce as well as lemondade. However….
        Jonas are making a difference that you might not be aware of; and that is your product is causing health issues in your clients. Diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol are huge health concerns in this community. Try sell something that doesn’t need a health warning on the label. Krispie Kremes are like cigarettes, addictive and killers.

        1. CongressWorksForUs January 27, 2018 9:29 am

          The problem is this; is the sugar causing the problem, or is someone who consumes a high, sugary diet likely to be someone who sits on their butt all day long and never ever goes for a walk?

          I’m not criticizing the donut eaters here, just asking a question; does the study really provide a cause and effect, or is it an obvious conclusion based on the lifestyle of the study’s participants.

          And I question it, because studies like this are usually a pre-cursor to someone government moron wanting to tax us more…

          1. oh_yes_yes_yes January 29, 2018 7:41 am

            Sugar and flour cause this. And I get your concerns, but the studies that I have reading do not come from a place of government agenda. No money is coming in from big pharma to push vegies over government subsidized sugar and flour.

            This isn’t to say that once the science is well accepted (and I do believe that it is already) that it won’t be used by special interests. That is not the point.

            Not saying that it is science, but one very excellent visual of the affects of food like KrispyKreme is “Super Size Me” the movie. Fun to watch too…

          2. oh_yes_yes_yes January 29, 2018 7:41 am

            BTW, Like your moniker and when you figure out how to make it happen, I’ll lend some energy to it.

      2. oh_yes_yes_yes January 27, 2018 7:39 am

        And just in from The Atlantic; “it’s increasingly looking like Alzheimer’s is another potential side effect of a sugary, Western-style diet”

        I like your thoughts and actions, however, please consider a bit of research of effects of your product on your consumer.

    2. Finn January 27, 2018 9:18 pm

      Agreed. If you have to sell your puppies by the side of the road you are not an ethical breeder.

  7. diverdave January 26, 2018 4:02 pm

    Road side vending is from a bygone era. Too bad what used to be common place in the islands, has now become nuisance. Time passes on.

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