COVID-19 Forces Businesses to Adapt, Close
By Catherine Cluett Pactol
As the threat of coronavirus intensifies, so does the impact to Molokai’s small businesses. From restaurants to gift shops, grocery stores to realtors, businesses are adapting or being forced to close, at least temporarily. Many are adjusting hours and taking it one day at a time.
“We been through hard times but nothing like this,” said longtime Molokai businesswoman Denise Taueetia, who owns Makana Nui Gift Shop. “We are in the beginning of trying to figure out, what do we do now and how long it’s going to last. It’s survival time!”
Jana Sasada recently took a leap to open her own business on main street in Kaunakakai, Haleola Essentials.
“COVID-19 was the least of my worries when I decided to quit my full time job after 14 years as a Program Supervisor,” she said. “But as of March 23, we officially locked our doors for public shopping till further notice.”
She said she has adapted by offering limited hours for pick ups only for those who have purchased through her online marketplace and prepaid.
“This allows us to service our community with goods and services especially for those who use natural healing remedies,” she said. “Business has definitely slowed down and it was hard for me to make the decision to lock our doors, but my life, my families lives and everyone else’s lives are more important than worrying about money at this point.”
Many local artisans and entrepreneurs are turning to online sales as their main source of revenue.
Maile Naehu, whose business, MyLei, features hand-dyed wearable art, said she’s been offering an online discount to boost sales.
“I’m not sure when this will all settle down so any sales for my business are a blessing at this point,” she said. “I’ve had a few orders from Molokai residents during this sale and it felt good to be able offer free shipping and not have to otherwise drop it off in person as social isolation wouldn’t allow that. I strongly encourage Molokai residents to buy produce, clothing, or anything Molokai made especially during these times.”
Local restaurants are closed for dine-in per the county’s Public Health Emergency Rules, but some are still offering take-out options.
“We’re still open our regular hours up until it gets more expensive to stay open than what we make,” said Hula Bean Cafe manager Precious Joao, who said she’s seen a big drop in business since last Wednesday’s county stay at home order. Hula Bean has removed their dining tables, and when there’s more than six people waiting for their orders, Joao said they ask customers to wait outside. “I haven’t seen tourists in a long time — and that’s a good thing — but tourists are a main [source of business]. But our regulars give us enough business to stay open.”
But other restaurants have made the tough decision to close — among them, Hiro’s Ohana Grill located at Hotel Molokai, which is also currently closed to guests.
“The updates from the governor and mayor of Maui County were so quick that when we adapted our hours and service to take out, another update came out that told people to stay home,” said Cameron Hiro, one of the business’s owners. “Basically we had a hard time keeping up…. We decided to close the restaurant after this week because basically the numbers didn’t add up in us staying open, even for take-outs. During that very short period of offering take-outs, our business was less than three customers per lunch and dinner shift.”
Hiro said during this time they will be working to do maintenance and kitchen deep cleaning. The business will tap into its capital reserves during this time to survive, he said, and may look at government resources for small businesses if it continues longer.
For those in the tourism industry, business has come to a screeching stop. Molokai Outdoors, which offers tours, ocean equipment and vehicle rentals, just made 21 years in business, said owner Clare Mawae.
“We just invested into a bunch of vehicles for the car rental fleet so this is quite scary since our cash flow came to a grinding halt and our overheads are now pretty high with all the car and insurance payments,” said Mawae. “Just as I thought we were finally getting ahead, those thoughts just disappeared in a matter of seconds. However knowing that we are not alone gives some comfort but I do hope that we have not come to the end of our run.”
She said she hopes the business can survive through April and maybe May.
“No paycheck and like many other small business owners will have to live and rely on faith, gratitude and belief that something good will come out of all of this,” she said. “We do not have a choice as stressing will not help but in the meantime exploring many options to pull through and most importantly a lot of prayers!”
Stay at home orders across the state have left airline flights empty. While that’s a positive for many residents concerned about the spread of the virus by visitors and returning residents, for Makani Kai Air — a local interisland carrier favorite — it’s been devastating.
“The sales just plummeted so much,” said owner Richard Schuman last Friday. “So many times my biggest problem was I didn’t have enough capacity. But we went from 17 to 21 flights to Molokai [daily] and today we have four…. If only two people want to fly, I don’t have the capital to keep flying and losing money…. and I’m not going to gouge the people of Molokai.”
Schuman said he’s down from 87 employees to eight and will be operating with a minimal flight schedule of two round trips between Molokai and Honolulu and one round trip between Molokai and Maui daily, until further notice.
With the financial future of many uncertain and residents not feeling comfortable with home showings, many local real estate agents are also coming up dry.
“In the interest of social distancing and protection for all we are suspending customary in-person practices but we are still readily available by phone, email, text, and video chat for any of your needs,” stated Keller Williams Molokai agents Ken and Susan Savage.
Even those businesses deemed essential services by Maui County and required to stay open — like banks, grocery stores, medical and pharmacy services and gas stations — have altered their business practices.
“We have established rules for our patients entering our store, including the mandatory use of antiseptic wipes,” said Kimberly Svetin of Molokai Drugs. “If you are sick, you are not allowed to enter the store. If we hear excessive coughing or sneezing, you will be asked to leave the store for the safety of our customers and employees. We are providing curbside delivery in the Molokai Drugs’ parking lot and we are confirming exact pick-up times in advance. We are providing complimentary delivery of medicines on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to kupuna at Home Pumehana. We are wiping down our public areas every 20 to 30 minutes and go through hundreds of antiseptic wipes per day.”
That’s only a few of the health and safety measures she mentioned the store is taking. She said they’re also bolstering the morale of staff by providing staff lunches and additional human resource benefits.
“Our sales at Kamoi Snack-n-Go have gone down over 50 percent,” continued Svetin. “The owners decide on a daily basis the hours of operation at this convenience store. We have had to cut operating hours and employee shifts. We are no longer open at night.”
Lori-Lei Rawlins-Crivello of Rawlins Texaco said they’ve also been adjusting business hours for the gas station, as well as taking extra sanitation measures.
“Being an essential business that’s required to remain open, we must continue to look out for the best interest of both our community as well as our employees,” she said. “These are unprecedented times and we are taking it day by day as there is so much unknowns ahead.”
She said bringing in supplies has been challenging sometimes because suppliers have been applying restrictions, but she commended fellow businesses for keeping shelves stocked and community members for staying level-headed. “We don’t get excited and we don’t go crazy or hoard when shopping cause that’s how we are here which is why we still have some of those essentials that other islands are out of.”
“As a business, we are already feeling the crunch and ripple effects,” said Rawlins-Crivello, saying the service station has adjusted hours. “We made a personal decision to shut down our Molokai U-Haul reservations and rentals the same day Hotel Molokai decided to shut down its operations, hoping that this would help flatten the curve on Molokai by sending a message to visitors that this is not the time to be visiting us.”
Kevin Misaki of Misaki’s Grocery said they’ve set limits for their customers purchasing high-demand items, while also been working around limits set by suppliers. He said popular purchases include the nationally sold-out toilet paper, as well as canned meats, rice, bottled water and sanitation supplies. When workers restock the shelves, he said, some items don’t even last an hour before they’re sold out.
Misaki said so far, there’s been a steady number of customers but he noticed a decline since the mayor’s stay at home rules went into effect last week. As for the future, it’s one day at a time.
“We might have to limit the number of shoppers at a time, but we’ll just have to see and make rules as we go,” he said. He urged people to take the risk of COVID-19 seriously, and Rawlins-Crivello agreed.
“These are sad, sad times to see so many people’s lives drastically change,” she said. “Schools being closed, people losing jobs and the financial repercussions due to it, businesses closing, families being separated due to travel restrictions, people confined to their homes and having anxieties of contracting COVID-19, so many lives being taken from this horrific disease and the world as we know it, being changed forever by the day. As mandated, let’s stay at home, refrain from gatherings and keep following safety/healthy practices to flatten the curve of this global pandemic.”