Soaring rents force longtime Kailua art gallery out of business

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KAILUA (HawaiiNewsNow) — Hundreds of people flocked to the Island Treasures Art Gallery Friday night for a big release party. After more than three decades, the beloved Windward Oahu business is closing its doors.

“Basically we were hoping to keep the art gallery open and we had done much better as things got busier and busier,” said art gallery manager Ben Matlin.

But Matlin said that although the gallery survived COVID, landlord Gail Allen could no longer afford the rent.

“When Gail opened the gallery 34 years ago, the rent was $2,500,” Matlin said. “Now the rents are $17,000 to $20,000, and they want escalators, higher every year.”

Over the years, the Island Treasures Art Gallery has featured paintings, sculptures, jewelry and more.

The dozens of artists who sold their creations there on consignment are now helpless.

“It’s going to leave a real cavity, a void,” said David Friedman, who specializes in luminous paintings of local landscapes. “It has been a proud part of my career and my resume to be included.”

“It’s a sad, sad event,” said painter Bill Braden, who has shown his art at Island Treasures since the beginning.

“I guess it means an opportunity for someone to open a gallery, and I’m looking for a gallery,” he added.

“This place is a place of community where artists come together,” said artist and former Kailua resident Juanita Aguerrebere. “Not being able to pay rent is an example of the gentrification that is happening in Kailua and across the state.”

Aguerrebere added that she felt it wasn’t just the closure of a gallery, it was the closure of a community.

Kailua is a different place than it was when the gallery opened in 1988. Kailua residents note that there are fewer local retailers and more national chains setting up shop, including a Whole Foods located across the street from where the gallery had its first location.

The once sleepy and windy town of Oahu also attracted more visitors from Japan, which the gallery said accounted for 50% of its business.

“If they were already back and we were doing fantastic things, then we might reconsider, but who knows if and when that will happen,” Matlin said.

Artists themselves hope their creative community can stay together.

“We’ll find a way. We’ll make it work,” said painter Fe Maria Vasquez, before adding, “I don’t know how. It’s going to happen.”

Kailua residents are insecure about the community as a whole.

“I don’t know what they’re going to put in here,” resident Rona Adams said. “Do you?”

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