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Lahaina loses town treasure

By Staff | Apr 7, 2016

Jim Killett, in classic hat and Guy Buffet shirt, guards the front door of his Lahaina Galleries.

LAHAINA – There are starving writers and starving artists, and art galleries from time to time that struggle to do well.

Jim Killett of Lahaina Galleries has not been starving and has done much better than most, establishing his place as perhaps the leading gallery in Lahaina. The challenge of being halfway profitable in recent years has been catching up to Jim, however, leading him to close his Front Street gallery (see article on page 9).

Jim and the gallery have been fixtures on Front Street for 40 years, celebrating four decades in business just a month ago. The beautiful gallery amid Lahaina’s many “ticky tacky” shops has brought a bit of elegance to the town.

The loss of Lahaina Galleries has other implications. Many of its artists have been with Jim for years and face loss of sales unless they can find other Lahaina places where they can show their art.

For art lovers, however, the closure has a bit of an upside. Paintings the gallery owns – worth thousands of dollars – are being sold at half price while they last.

Not many Front Street businesses have been here as long as the galleries. (Kimo’s, the original of the four TS Restaurants in West Maui, recently celebrated its 40th year, and old standbys such as Lahaina Printsellers have a long tradition on the street as well.)

Jim is a bit wistful about the closure set for the end of April. “We have had many glorious years,” he said.

The decision to close is partly due to high rent – a problem that continues to afflict merchants along the street.

Lahaina Galleries, which has established itself as a strong local brand, will continue to operate on Maui in Wailea under the same name.

In the first months in business, Jim rode a bicycle to work but now prefers a moped. “It is too far to go by moped to Wailea,” he joked, so he will not be spending much time there.

Before the recession hit in 2008, our PR firm did a lot of publicity work for the galleries, and we had fun getting to know its many artists. We never charged fees commensurate with the work, but no regrets.

One day, Jim called me upstairs, where he had a rack of beautiful Guy Buffet print shirts. He gave me one, perhaps thinking he owed us something more for the discounted work.

This shirt is still one of my favorites. I call it the most expensive shirt in my closet.

In his early seventies, Jim still hasn’t slowed down. Getting older has nothing to do with the sale, he reported in a conversation outside of Office Max the other day. He was there to inquire about going out of business signs

With his classic broad-brimmed hat, Jim has been a familiar site at the galleries many evenings, engaging in low-key conversation with both visitors and locals. With Joan McKelvey and others, he helped start “Friday Night is Art Night.”

Sports minded and a former coach, Jim loves to talk about the Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament each year, attending at least one game to root for a favorite team. He will be busy closing down, but next year, perhaps he will have the time to attend all three days.

Jim hopes that Lahaina Galleries will still have somewhat of a presence in town – perhaps limited in another gallery.

Killett has had a good life here thanks to a lucky decision when he first landed in Lahaina to buy a gallery and not an ice cream parlor.

Many ice cream parlors have come and gone, often in the same spaces, but not Lahaina Galleries – until, that is, this year. And he hasn’t had to worry about his paintings melting either.