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4Creature Comforts Evolution Continues

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

A little history about me, Jeri, and 4Creature Comforts...

In the Fall of 1986, Geddy & I moved from Bar Harbor, Maine to Kauai, Hawaii with our 5-month-old cat, Life. Due to a 6-month quarantine in effect then, we smuggled her! We felt justified since she was healthy & had all her shots. I arrived looking very pregnant!

Because of Geddy’s connections, we moved to Camp Nash in Wainiha, a gorgeous, lush jungle valley sandwiched between mountains on the North Shore of Kauai.

Here I am with Graham Nash and his wife at the time, Susan Sennett, at Camp Nash. I loved living here... The gardens were full of fruit trees, the views were stunning, and the sound of the rain on the metal roof was so welcoming.

It was so stunning living here that I would pinch myself daily as we drove the windy mountain roads with a series of bridges that could only accommodate one-way traffic at a time. These narrow bridges were often impassable due to flooding rivers during the rainy winter months.

I had my inventory from my boutique in Bar Harbor here. I began to trade with locals for art, air flights, food, and whatever I could. It was a delightful way to release inventory and develop new friendships.

We moved to a beach house in the white sand of Haena, the last town before the Napali Coast State Park.

I adored hiking the Kalalau Trail. It was a rugged two-mile hike to the Hanakapiai Falls. My heart would race super-fast swimming under the pounding falls to sit behind the veil of the falls. This was my favorite place to take visiting friends.

While we lived at the beach house in Haena, I continued to trade goods. It wasn’t long before we found a great opportunity to buy a complex of old plantation houses built with big field stones in Kilauea.

We named this complex the Kilauea Plantation Center. There was a preschool, a hair salon, an alternative health care center & a realtor already established in these buildings. My friend Susie opened a metaphysical store, The Rosetta Stone here as well.

There was another similar set of stone buildings across the street featuring a store called Kung Lung, a bakery, a movie theater & a food co-op.

Look at the old cars in this newspaper article about our renovation plans for the center!

We moved into the house on the far-left side of the complex, which would become my next store, Artisans International. Growing up near Boston, I always loved visiting a store on Newbury Street with that name. I was fascinated with all the fun imported goods there. Geddy and I planned to import handmade rugs from India. We spent several months traveling to India, Nepal, and Thailand. But that all changed! I fell in love with the people and their arts in Thailand. We collected goods in both India and Nepal that we brought back to Thailand to add to our first 40’ container of goods to Kauai. It was a daunting task to fill a container! We became detectives sourcing the arts that attracted us.

This was decades before the concept of practicing fair trade. However, I wanted to know the artists. I wanted to see for myself what their working conditions were like. I didn’t want to buy through middle people. We journeyed to small villages to find what we were looking for. One day waiting in a village of Karin Hilltribe folks, I sat under a tree to do my embroidery. I was watched and soon surrounded by village women curious about my art. It was such an icebreaker.

Suddenly I wasn’t such a strange foreigner but someone they could relate to. As time went on, I would do this on purpose to draw the attention of suspicious village artists.

It was the Spring of 1988 when we shipped our first container to Hawaii. It was complicated because it had to clear customs in Oahu first before coming to Kauai. And I began to discover that doing business with people from a very different culture came with frustrations. It was mandatory to have original documents for US Customs. Communications with the shipping company out of Chiang Mai were nearly impossible. This was before fax machines, computers, and cell phones. Overseas phone calls were extremely expensive. When I attempted to find out where those original documents were, I would hear that they were on their way. They were not! Because Thai people were so polite, they told you what you wanted to hear instead of the facts. There was a delay in sending those original documents causing the container to be held up in storage, a very costly event. This was so frustrating that I considered quitting the import business. But I paused, reflected on the cultural differences, and decided to adjust my thinking. Why would I think that people from other cultures should think and act the way I was raised in my culture? Why would I think that my way of doing business is the only right way? I accepted the challenge of doing international business. Once I readjusted my thought process, my life as an importer has been a journey that I am proud of.

The container was unloaded on Oahu. Our crates were shipped over by boat and we picked them up by truckloads to bring to our new store at the Kilauea Plantation Center.

An unusual twist of the new store, Artisans International, was that it was in our home! By day, there was a Thai teak folding screen that kept the kitchen off-limits to customers, and the door to the bedroom was closed. The rest of the house became the store. We lived most of our life outside.

We didn’t feel inconvenienced. The photo above is of the Hawaiian shaman who did a traditional blessing before opening the store. The photo to the right is from the opening day. There wasn’t much furniture and home decor available on Kauai at that time. Island stores mostly catered to the tourists. Since we imported rattan and hand-carved teak furniture along with pottery, statues, textiles, and home décor, we filled a necessary niche.

Here I am with dear friends Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Taj Mahal near the Kilauea Lighthouse which is about a mile past our Kilauea Plantation Center at the end of the road. The top shelf on the left side photo was Kareem’s shelf. It became a thing because he always bought whatever was on that shelf which was at his eye-level!

Charlie Musselwhite, a great friend, played on the island from time to time. This photo with Geddy & Charlie appeared in a magazine, Island Life, after a fun evening.

As I mentioned, the Kilauea Lighthouse was very close to our store. I became a docent there. I had the pleasure of barfing blue-footed boobies to discover what they were eating, watching albatross engaging in their outrageous courting behavior, and orienting tourists at the lighthouse.

I hosted the 75th Year Celebration of the Kilauea Lighthouse on May 1, 1988, at our Kilauea Plantation Center. There was a stage for entertainment, a giant tent for local craft vendors, and many food vendors.

Betsy came over from Oahu to help me organize the event. We made lots of traditional leis from the Ti plant and flowers to present to dignitaries and entertainers.

I had a booth selling my Seace Porcelain trivets and other items from the store. I designed a commemorative t-shirt that I sold as well.

It was well attended and fun for all!

I loved island life, but Geddy got restless after a few years. We met John Henry Browne on the island. He suggested that we would love to open a store on Bainbridge Island where he lived. He arranged for us to meet some of his friends. We evolved a plan to exchange living in a condo on Bainbridge for a time at our place on Kauai. We fell in love with Bainbridge and decided to move there. We went directly to Thailand and filled a second container that we sent to Bainbridge while we went back to Kauai to fill another container with our possessions and store goods. We arrived on Bainbridge with 5 cats including our original cat Life, from Bar Harbor. Life was a white-furred blue-eyed deaf cat. She had a litter of cats that she delivered in my lap! We spayed her after that litter, but we kept one of her kittens, Ellsworth also white, blue-eyed, and deaf. When she had a letter of kittens, we kept one of hers as well, Sky, the same lineage with white, blue eyes and deaf characteristics. There is a pattern here!

Our new friend on Bainbridge Island, Judy Leonhart, found us a great house to rent, and Kay & Kim McElroy helped us get acclimated. The next chapter continues the journey…

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