Molokai Business Resumes for Many, Closure for Some
By Catherine Cluett Pactol
As Hawaii seeks to reopen its economy, many Molokai store owners are getting back to business after shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dine-in restaurants like Paddlers and Hiro’s Ohana Grill have resumed serving food, while many non-essential businesses that faced temporary closures are getting back to previous business hours.
“We have been operating with very limited days and hours since mid March,” said Wailani Tanaka, owner of Something for Everybody, which offers locally made products, custom clothing and food to order. “We are finally opening back up this week.”
Most businesses are requiring masks and hand sanitizing for entry, and limiting the number of customers in the store at one time.
Some, like Something for Everybody, have shifted their business model to allow online ordering, and diversified offerings. Tanaka said their food menu is available for ordering and paying online, and they have added pre-order bulk groceries and supplies that customers can also order online.
“This has been a great supplement for us and our customers so appreciate the service of being able to shop at their fingertips and just show up and pick up on barge days,” she said.
Jana Sasada, owner of Haleola Essentials Boutique and Gift shop in Kaunakakai, had just opened her businesses when COVID-19 hit.
“It was quite frightening being a new shop owner and having to experience this worldwide pandemic,” said Sasada, adding she, too, turned to online sales to keep her business alive during April and May when the storefront was closed to the public.
“This worked out really well because people could shop from the comfort of their own homes and pick up at their convenience,” she said. “As COVIC-19 cases started to simmer down throughout the islands, we were able to open our doors in June… Our hours of operation have decreased due to COVID but it’s better than being completely shut down. We’ve been adapting to the needs of our community and hoping to resume back to regular hours within the next month or two.”
But for some businesses, the pandemic has meant permanent closure.
After 12 years in business, Kalele Bookstore and Divine Expressions in Kaunakakai closed its doors at the end of June. Owner Teri Waros called the store’s journey “everything I wanted it to be.”
“I wanted it to be welcoming, I wanted it to be a gathering place, and that’s what it became,” she said of the homey shop where visitors and local kupuna alike frequented in Kaunakakai. “We had wonderful events over the years.”
The shop featured locally made art, jewelry, gifts and books and hosted many community cultural events in its intimate, cozy setting.
“I have 12 years of the most incredible memories, I met the most wonderful people, I’m part of one of the most incredible communities anywhere,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it, it was everything I wanted it to be.”
Everything, that is, except financial stability, Waros admitted.
“It was 12 years of not knowing whether I could pay the next month’s rent,” she said. About 70 percent of her business came from visitors or snowbirds, and the seasonal nature of Molokai’s limited tourist industry made business tough, she said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she had to face reality.
“None of us know, but to the best of my analysis, I think it’s going to take a long time before people start to come back,” said Waros.
After making her last sale on March 13 — the day Mayor Victorino issued the Public Health Emergency Proclamation — she called her landlord on May 1 and said, “This isn’t going to work.” The store closed its doors for the last time on June 24.
Waros, originally from Oahu, previously worked as general manager of Molokai Ranch’s lodge. Despite losing her business, she assured those wondering that she isn’t leaving Molokai. After being forced to leave the Kalae home she rented for 14 years due to unrelated circumstances, she said she is currently living in a tent on a friend’s property with her dogs and plans to “relax, slow down, simplify my life and relief the stress,” while finding a new creative outlet to serve the community by growing food.
Similarly, Denise Taueetia, who owned Makana Nui Hawaiian Gift Shop near Pizza Cafe, and previously, Denise’s Gifts of the Islands in Kualapu`u, also closed her business at the end of June.
“Seeing what COVID has done to many businesses and not really knowing when it will get better we decided to close instead of running out of finances,” said Taueetia. “I see that businesses will struggle but mostly gift shops. So we are putting a plan together for our next journey. We all need to be strong and trust in God during these times…. I like to thank everyone for their support thru out the 20-plus years we’ve been in business.”
For many entrepreneurs remaining open, it’s just trying to survive and hoping things improve.
“In the 21 years, I have been in business, somehow, I have found a way to be resilient to the changing tides, ranging from 9/11, the closing of two hotels, and the recession,” said Clare Mawae, who owns Molokai Outdoors, a visitor-oriented ocean sports, tour and rental car company. “It has sure been a wild ride making it through those times, and this is proving to be the most challenging.”
Since The Molokai Dispatch spoke with Mawae in March, interisland travel has reopened last month, allowing Molokai Outdoors to stay afloat.
“Thankfully the local and outer island residents have kept us busy with the car rental side, which manages to pay the bills but only bills! I am not sure if we will make it but will at least try… In the meantime, it is bare bone operations and super thankful for the kama’aina market to help keep us afloat,” said Mawae.