Hawaii retailers are responding to the coronavirus pandemic in different ways, but all are bracing for a slowdown as government officials advise Americans to practice social distancing and take drastic measures to stop its spread.
Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are unprecedented for the state.
“With other things that happened, whether it was SARS or bird flu, it never really hit Hawaii,” said Yamaki. “I think this is the first pandemic we’ve ever had, so everyone’s trying to be proactive. Retailers are adapting, but every day the rules change a bit.”
The trade association represents small mom-and-pop shops as well as big-box stores, luxury stores and shopping centers. All are responding in different ways, she said.
While global and national retailers such as Apple, Sephora and Nordstrom have opted for temporary closures, some local shops are hanging in there and trying the best they can to continue in “business as usual” mode.
Macy’s and Neiman Marcus announced Tuesday they would temporarily close their stores nationwide through the end of the month.
Oahu’s two largest malls — Ala Moana Center and Pearlridge Center — recently announced a reduction in hours, but neither has completely shut down. Windward Mall and Kahala Mall continued to operate with normal hours at last check on Tuesday.
Some retailers are sending customers messages through email blasts, apps and social media about extra precautions they are taking to sanitize their stores, while others are having employees wear gloves at checkout stations.
Others are moving into online mode or asking customers to order and pick up only.
Starbucks, for example, moved to a “grab-and-go” model for many of its U.S. locations, and encourages walk-in and drive-thru orders or ordering in advance through its app and picking up in the store.
The coffee chain, however, is no longer allowing customers to sit or linger, and has cleared out all tables and chairs from its stores.
The Starbucks at Ward Village on Tuesday was operating in “grab-and-go” mode.
A few doors down, Patagonia posted a “Sorry, we’re closed” sign on its front door. On its website Patagonia informed customers it had temporarily shut down all operations in North America “to do our part to protect our community.” Ohana Hale Marketplace, an indoor marketplace featuring dozens of local vendors, was also shuttered.
Native Hawaiian fashion retailer Manaola Hawaii opted to close its Ala Moana store and to reduce its hours at Pearlridge Center to align with the mall’s new hours, but will continue to fulfill orders online.
“At this time it is important for us to lead a responsible example and focus on the safety of our ohana and our community at large,” Manaola said in a news release.
Local fashion retailer Tori Richard, on the other hand, opted to reduce hours at some stores, and informed customers that it is sanitizing more frequently and advising workers to wash their hands regularly and to make minimal physical contact with others.
On one end of the spectrum, big-box stores and grocers are running out of high-demand items such as toilet paper and cleaners as panic buying ensues, while boutiques that sell other kinds of goods or that relied on the tourism market are experiencing a slowdown.
That slowdown may be felt even more in coming weeks, given that Gov. David Ige on Tuesday asked all Hawaii visitors to postpone their trips for the next 30 days.
The foot traffic is already down in tourist districts such as Waikiki, as well as neighborhoods like Kaimuki.
The situation is fluid, and many retailers are taking direction from their parent companies, according to Yamaki, while others are weighing their decisions day by day, but the impacts are being felt by all.
“We’re seeing some of them laying off employees,” she said. “We’re hearing that they’re cutting hours or the owners are working the registers and stockrooms, and not paying themselves, just to get by. … This is going to have an effect on all of us no matter what.”
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