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Businesses hold out hope despite ongoing eruption

  • Video by Rosemarie Bernardo

    Pahoa's Sirius Coffee Connection employee Chris Gagne talks about how the lava has impacted many of their regular customers.


    Chris Gagne prepared a beverage for a customer at Sirius Coffee Connection in Pahoa on Thursday. Business has slowed significantly since so many regular customers have lost their homes.


    Hannah Taylor responded to a customer at Stratos New York Pizzeria Thursday. The Pahoa restaurant reduced hours of operation since the volcanic activity in the area began over a month ago. “It’s just dead, dead, dead,” said Taylor, who added, “Some days are better but it just feels slow.”

VOLCANO >> Some store owners here have cut hours, laid off employees, or dipped into savings to stay afloat after a drastic dropoff of customers since eruption activity surfaced in Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone in early May.

Volcano Village is located approximately three miles from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, all but a small section of which has been shut down indefinitely. Businesses in Volcano have relied on the park to attract a steady stream of visitors at bed-and-breakfast operations, shops and eateries.

The owner of Cafe Ono, Ira Ono, said the disruption has had a major impact on all businesses, and that his losses for the month of May were nearly $39,000.

Although May and June are typically slow because of graduation season, “Once the park closed, everything really dropped,” said Ono, who also owns Volcano Garden Arts and Volcano Artist Cottage.

He said his businesses sustained a 60 percent drop in customers, prompting him to shorten cafe hours, cut hours for five employees and lay off another.

“We are doing everything to survive. We’re doing everything we can to keep our businesses open and keep our people employed,” he said.

Most of the park has been closed for more than 30 days because of increased earthquakes and eruption activity at the Kilauea summit, with only the Kahuku Unit open about 40 miles from the caldera. Last year, the national park attracted an estimated 2.16 million visitors, and normally contributes $166 million to the local economy annually.

Despite the economic hit, Ono is optimistic things will improve should the park fully reopen and cruise ships return after skipping stops in Hilo and Kona over air-quality concerns.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America is set to resume port calls to Hawaii island this week.

In Pahoa, meanwhile, closer to the erupting fissures in the lower East Rift Zone, Danielle Holland said she and her husband just five months ago opened All Kine Aloha, a shop that sells handmade items, oils and crystals.

Holland said she had to dip into her savings to pay her $800 rent for the month of May. “This is the first time that we haven’t been able to make rent with our sales,” she lamented.

During a recent afternoon, as patrons trickled into Pahoa’s Sirius Coffee Connection, employee Chris Gagne said business has plummeted, and the lava that has destroyed approximately 600 homes has affected many of the shop’s regular customers.

Customers flocked to the coffee shop in the days after the May 3 eruption, utilizing the cafe’s internet services after many residents were forced to evacuate. A sharp drop of patrons soon followed as evacuees moved into shelters or with family or friends, she said.

The odor of sulfur dioxide, which smells like rotten eggs or burning tires, permeated the air Thursday afternoon in the aftermath of another explosion at the Kilauea summit. “The air is terrible and whenever the air is terrible, fewer people come out,” Gagne said.

But the small coffee shop has turned into a place of respite for some evacuees. The stress level is high for many, Gagne said. “It’s kind of quiet in here so people come and just do nothing and relax.

Though businesses are taking a hit, the community understands it’s incomparable to the hardship on displaced residents.

Gagne said patrons at Sirius Coffee lend a sympathetic ear to one another as many share their experiences of loss and uncertainty. “They all have similar stories. It’s hard to go through something when everything that you knew is just gone.”

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