Molokai Scooters Opens Shop

Owner David Kelly pictured on one of his for-rent mopeds with wife Jane in front of their new business. Photo by Leslie Hibner

With gas prices on the rise, Molokai Scooters may be just what residents and visitors to the island need. Oregon natives David and Jane Kelly are opening the moped rental store next door to the Bank of Hawaii in Kaunakakai, with an expected start date of April 9.

With years of experience in the retail business shared between the two, the Kellys are hopeful for the future of Molokai Scooters even before its official opening. They currently have a fleet of 20 mopeds available for rent with a 50cc engine –an engine small enough to operate with only a driver’s license under Hawaii law. The vehicles reach speeds over 35 mph, and are able to get upwards of 50 miles per gallon, according to David.

“In business, everything takes longer and costs more,” he said. “But a delightful surprise [has been] the friendliness of the people here on Molokai.”

After receiving over 50 job applications and conducting 15 interviews, the new business has hired five new employees from Molokai to work as rental agents, among other responsibilities, according to David. They hope to increase their staff as business picks up, he said.

There have been other scooter companies that have tried similar operations in the past, but liability issues became a problem, according to Penny Steinhoff, operation manager for neighboring business Mountain Slopes Water. “It’s a good idea because gas is so expensive, but I don’t know if it’ll work,” she said.

“I think [scooters] are a great idea,” said Molokai resident Lisa Stilley. “With gas, you can go a lot further on a scooter than you can in a car.”

The Kellys hope to permanently move to Molokai later in the year, but are currently still residing in Oregon, said David. He hopes in the future to expand and incorporate the use and sale of scooters with larger engines.

“First and foremost, our goal is to give local folks and tourists a way to have more fun,” he explained.

Molokai Scooters rental rates are $39 for a half day and $59 for a full day. For more information, call 553-4400 or visit molokaiscooters.com.


8 Responses to “Molokai Scooters Opens Shop”

  1. mkk808 says:


    For some reason this story really, really bothers me. I do think this is a great idea, genius considering the current gas prices, but it really bothers me that a non Molokai native or resident for that fact, can come into our community and set up shop. I’m sorry, it just really bothers me. I’m no activist & I’m not prejudice (for the most part:). This story just has me wondering why this type of business was not established by a local resident. I ‘m sure the idea has crossed a mind or two, maybe even three or four of in our community. So I’m left wondering what the is the missing factor that prohibited a Molokai resident from pursuing this idea and making it a reality of their own? Was it money to get started?, the business know-how? experience? what? I think we as native Moloka’ians need to really examine what the educational/career needs of our special and unique community are to allow for a business like this and others to be owned and operated by locals, natives, rather than visitor’s turned local business owner turned local resident. And please, e kala mai, I mean no disrespect or negativity toward the Kellys, it’s just hard for me to see another foreigner opening up shop in our small community when it could have and should have been a local doing the same………

  2. Lawrence says:

    Aloha mkk808,

    Mahalo for your insight and observation. I have spent many a sleepless night as an outsider and frequent visitor to Molokai wondering what business, and business plan would benefit the people, culture and island of Molokai.

    I keep going back to the strengths and resources already existing here in abundance. The island, it’s beauty, it’s people, the aloha. I don’t mean this to seem trite. However, these strengths are impossible to replicate, precious beyond any price, and contain multiple opportunities for the people of Molokai.

    Every business needs a product, a need or desire for that product and a affordable source for the item to be sold.

    I agree whole heartedly that locally owned, locally controlled and completely sustainable business is the way to go. A business doing no environmental harm, and offering steady employment, decent benefits, and resulting in several positive revenue streams for the island and it’s residents. It can’t be a source of unwanted development, an attraction leading to excessive tourism or devisive, soul destroying conflict. It must have the support of the local residents and a buy in from those who care deeply about Molokai and it’s future.

    I currently run a business and have a long, and extensive background in business development and operations. There is no secret to running a succesful business. However, the devil is in the details. RIght now, if a locally owned business had to rely on local support exclusively, it would need a unique business plan as disposable income is precious on Molokai. Therefor, it will need an outside source of additional revnue. This is where tourism raises it’s potentially ugly head. I say potentially because this business is owned and controlled by locals. It can limit it’s exposure and control its clientel. That is part of what will make it unique and desirable. There is potential to create a business with clients on a waiting list.

    Consider the fine wines of France. The vinyards are small. They never get bigger. They only become more exclusive and desirable. They maintain themselves, they are completely sustainable, they employ local staff. Yet they are purchased year after year. There is always a waiting list for this product with limited availability.

    This is just one small example. The task is to envision a new business that would carry Molokai into a dependable future, keeping it’s unique profile intact, yet improved and secure.

    Could the children and Kapuna of Molokai envision this? Can the opportunity be identified? I’m sure it can.

    If I’ve learned anything these past 30 years of business operations, it’s that no solution is perfect. There is always comprimise.

    Mahalo and keep Molokai Molokai.

  3. Kalikiano says:

    Hui, MKK808 and Lawrence!

    Good points made here. I agree that there should, ideally, to be a local base of development that adequately reflects the traditional collectivist culture Molokai has inherited, in order to assure the most beneficial return for all (I think of Uncle Phil and his bicycles as a perfect example of this). Unfortunately, an enterprise of this sort (the scooter business) requires a substantial capital investment and that’s where things usually get a bit dicey. I don’t think it is unfair to say that available capital for developing business on the island is sparse and almost certainly inadequate for the potential challenges posed, and this therefore (usually) requires (capital funding and/or backing) involvement from groups that may not be local. From a historical standpoint, this is the pattern that has always existed in post-missionary Hawaii (admittedly not always with the best results for either the ‘aina or its peoples).

    That said, small and economical vehicles are definitely needed as the costs of transportation continue to rise appreciably and despite the considerable risk that small motorised two-wheeled vehicles carry with their use, this plan is without question a laudably creative approach to dealing with the present challenge of making affordable transportation more available. The concept has worked quite well in many other parts of the world, certainly, but again…due to the highly litigenous nature of modern American commercial culture…full consideration must be given to issues such as potential liability (accident, injury, death, et al), and that can be VERY costly. Again, all of these aspects of a proposed enterprise must be not just fully preconceived and planned for in advance, but backed by substantial capital reserves so as to ensure success in a remote area like Molokai.

    I congratulate David and Jane on having the desire to contribute to the greater Molokai kauhale in this manner and I would venture to presume that they will be quickly drawn into the same collectivist spirit that Molokai counts as part of its traditional cultural heritage. It is difficult to come to Molokai, even as a casual malihini, and not feel a certain compulsion to be part of the whole island in as beneficial and well-intended manner as possible.

    As Kalaniua Ritte put it, just last week “Aloha has to be earned” to be sure, but it seems reasonable to assume that David and Jane will definitely earn that Aloha, if all the groundwork for their business is carefully, sensitively and thoughtfully laid out. The fact that they are still resident on the mainland and are not yet living permanently on the island is, to my mind., a secondary consideration, given the apparent economic potential their idea carries with it and their expressed intent.

    As for ‘compromise’, I couldn’t agree more that in the end, all ideas involving the future of the island MUST establish a colloquy engendered by reasoned and sensitive compromise. Compromise is not just good business, it is the essential core of all human interactions that are not destined to end in discord and unacceptable expressions of violent disharmony.

    One of my favorite ideas for revitalising local economic fortune would to see Molokai take over where Haleakula Distillers on Maui (Nine Islands Okolehau Liqueur) have left off and produce full strength ‘Molokaiian Okolehau’. With the proper capital and backing, this once illegal and legendary local distillation could actually help establish Molokai’s reputation by both capitalising on a traditional island product (legally) and drawing from local resources to promote cultural ties with the past. It is simply another idea that is yet to be investigated, as the challenge of how to improve the island’s internal economy may best be met, with the best possible outcome for all.

    Perhaps David and Jane’s idea will inspire others already ON the island to explore similar possibilities? Okole maluna!

  4. Lawrence says:

    hui Kalikiano,

    Mahalo for more clarification and your well thought out reply. That is a wonderful idea for a small, local business.

    I have also thought stringed instrument bulding might be a possible cottage industry. Guitars, Ukuleles made on Molokai with local wood, local artisans. It takes very little wood to make these instruments. I have a hand made Ukulele from a local builder. Made of old, sourced Koa, Kiawe, and bone from Axis deer.

    Lutherie is a fine proffesion and students could intern, learn the craft and expand it’s possibilities. This business would require marketing, IT skills, a sales force, accounting help, etc. It would also require careful sourcing of natural resources. This would encourage forest husbandry of a very careful variety. Again, these instruments would be exclusively made on Molokai, by local employees who essentially own the business.

    As previously mentioned, the succesful business could also support scholorships, internships, and workshops for amateur builders.

    I also envision a circle of side businesses to go along with a succesful instrument company. These involve dance, performance videos and CD’s, festivals, a clothing line.

    Making instruments doesn’t require a large footprint or enormous start up costs. The finishes for instruments are now water based, environmentaly safe and superior to the old laquers originally used to seal and finish.

    There is a renaissance of modern lutherie today, turning out amazing instruments from every corner of the globe.

    So yes, hopefully David and Jane’s idea will spur on local business creation.

    I agree that some things in this life must be earned. Respect, and trust are on the top of my list.


  5. Kalikiano says:

    Ho Lawrence,

    A further idea for a ‘local’ economic incentive, your concept seems well conceived, whether one is ‘tuned’ to the strong island musical heritage or not! We can all think of wonderful Hawaiian musical groups and musicians/singers whom we can all take great pride in (Raitea Helm, the great IZ, Hapa, Lono, and the list is really endless!). Home island fabrication of musical instruments made from local materials seems another excellent and commendably creative approach to investigate for Molokai, in my opinion. I think in that context also of some of our well known Molokai wood craftsmen/artists who create marvelous pahu (now departed Uncle Bill Kapuni for one) and other excellently crafted items. But whether island made ukulele, pahu, or what, there are ways and means of achieving singularity and balanced economic return: they just need a bit of creative thought backed by suitably matched dedication!

    In order to create significant economic sources of income from such things there would have to be, as you note, a cooperative and organised effort established, but it seems to be that the overall benefits for the greater kauhale would be potentially substantial. All these things are possible if only people will put a positive and co\operative perspective on solving problems, rather than reflexively adopting a uniformly negative pattern of blanket rejection.

    Mahalos for this excellent idea. It serves as simply more evidence that given the right aloha spirit and broad recognition that the island CAN ultimately be self-supporting in the long run (given the right application of available resources, both human and material), there is always light at the end of that dark lava tube, eh! (And it ain’t ‘night marcher’ fire, either!)

    Aloha mai e! Malama pono!

  6. keikiaina says:

    Freedom of Choice. Anyone can start a business on Molokai. There have been MANY programs with GRANT MONIES to train people to start their own businesses whether it is in agriculture or whatever. You NEED to research and stick to whatever business you start. And you have to put in alot of time and when you are making money put it BACK into the businesses. There are MANY businesses that have started on Molokai by LOCAL familes.

    ONE BIG WAY to support these small business is stop buying from COSTCO and the INTERNET.

    Times are tough pull your resources together. Please we are American citzens and your choices are there for you.Look at our newspaper the Molokai Dispatch, all the writers and reporting is done by young adults from the mainland. Lets LIVE ALOHA…………

  7. keikiaina says:

    I am keikiaina and just want to say that people who move in our community need to respect the HOST CULTURE which is the Hawaiian people and the locals who are born here in Hawaii. Please do not try to make pilikia with what has been going on in our island like the Saturday market. You moved here so respect the people and all the functions that have been here for many years.When you respect us you will go far in this community. Also, us locals need to respect others as well because there are good people moving and living here.I sometimes do not understand when people move here to Molokai that they can be so disrespectful to our people and island. I have learned to just not assume and give ALOHA to all, but if I feel they are arrogant and are condescending I will tell them, maybe Molokai is not for them in a nice way.God made all of US.
    Live ALOHA

  8. HaoleDaMushman says:

    This scooter rental shop has not been tried like this one before, in large part because the economics are so difficult and the island is not suitable for the “moped” 30mph moped class that makes up 95% of the rentals on other islands. Perhaps it is good that a local did not start it, so we can all learn with outside money paying the bill.

    If one rents a moped, they want to go somewhere. To most who have never ridden a scooter/moped (no license, a tourist fun idea), the concept of going up over the hill to the west end, or even up to the Kalaupapa overlook is terrifying. Going out to the east end with all of it’s surprising turns and dirty roads and dogs off leash is no less scary. For the more experienced, we know the protocol of moving over to the right works on the part of the island where we have a shoulder.
    But going out east end, there is no emergency lane to ride in while being overtaken by one of our island pickup trucks on big mudder tires.

    With few exceptions, because of the nature of the island, people rent cars, both to carry luggage and groceries, but also to get the 15-20 miles to their rental house. These people might come in and rent a scooter for the day, but most likely not, as they would have realized that the scooter does not offer an advantage on this island other than fuel efficiency. Parking a scooter in lahaina is handy, but in downtown Kaunakakai it does not matter so much.

    I really do hope that they make it, perhaps teaming up with the hotel, they can bring the scooters closer to their biggest market, the hotel guests. I just hope they do not burn up all their cash on the retail space. In order to make it work, they would have to have 10 or more scooters out all day everyday. I simply do not think the demand is there. I hope I am wrong, but there are not that many hotel rooms or rental houses close to town….

    I say good luck to any entrepreneur be they Kanaka, Haole, Lebanese, Filipino, Chinese or Japanese. It is so easy to sit around and talk about the woulda coulda shouldas, but only the intrepid actually go out and act to build a business. Good luck Haole scooter folks, two wheels rule and the more we have here the better!

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