Big Island native Ivan Hegent wants to keep local, well, local.
The 41-year-old says he is bothered when swap meets and farmers markets sell jewelry, trinkets, mementos, souvenirs and other items to visitors under the guise of being from Hawaii. He remembers sitting down at the various sites, prior to losing his vision, flipping over the items and seeing a label identifying the item’s country of origin.
“We are selling our visitors memories that are made in the Philippines when they should be made right here in Hawaii,” said Hegent, who has a background in the tourism industry and recently moved back to the island after several years on Oahu. “It is deceiving visitors who are thinking they are buying a beautiful piece of jewelry made in Hawaii — I decided (that) was wrong and wanted to create something right.”
That “something right” is a new shopping experience and means for education, the Kona At Its Finest Hawaiian Open Market. The market, which will be located in front of Pier 1 Imports at the Kona Coast Shopping Center, has a grand opening slated around 8 a.m. on Dec. 5. Hegent is still looking for vendors.
During the holidays, the market and swap meet will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Following the season, it will run Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The market, which will give a portion of proceeds to the Salvation Army, will feature items made either on the Big Island or within the state as well as second-hand items that families can sell, Hegent said. If an item is bought from outside the islands, the vendor must show some type of local effort.
“I want to bring back Kona at its finest,” said Hegent, who is legally blind.
While Hegent’s vision may now be limited to blurs of lights, shapes and shadows due to a genetic disorder, he said it doesn’t limit his goals.
In the past few years, with the help of a partner, Hegent created and incorporated a snack business and is nearing the opening of the Kona market. The business, he said, is a gift that came by chance after he was declared legally blind and was unable to find work.
“I went from being able to see and then not being able to see — and not being able to work,” he explained. “No one would give me a job. No one wants a blind man to work for them. It was horrible; there was no way I could support myself.”
In January 2012, Hegent organized Everyding Ono/Dragon Shrimp Chips LLC with the state. His product is currently made at a certified kitchen in Hilo and will be sold at the Kona market.
Hegent lives with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disease that causes retinal deterioration. The retina is the layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye that converts light images to nerve signals and sends them to the brain.
“The older I get the worse it gets,” he said. “I used to be able to drive a car and work. But, now everything is blurry — I can only see lights, some colors, shapes and shadows.”
It is an uncommon condition that affects about 1 in 4,000 people in the United States, according to the institutes. There is no known effective treatment for the condition, and it can progress to complete blindness. Corrective lenses are no help.
The main risk factor for retinitis pigmentosa is a family history, according to the institutes. That is exactly what happened with Hegent and his younger brother.
The retinitis pigmentosa gene is carried by females, but affects, in most cases, only males, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. Hegent said the disorder is carried and passed along by his mother’s side of the family.
“It affects everyone differently,” he said, explaining his brother developed the genetic disorder at age 6. “Before 23, I had no problems.”
By creating the company and establishing the all-Hawaii market, Hegent hopes not only to inspire others with disabilities, but also the general public.
“If there’s others like me out there with a disability, there’s still hope,” he said. “I want to let the community know that if you give us a chance we can do just as good, if not better, than anyone else.”
For more information on the market, or to become a vendor, call Hegent at 953-5801 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.