In an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, city parks were closed Thursday, but as of Friday people still could log their steps and picnic in the great outdoors of Ala Moana Center, which remained open although many stores and eateries had closed.
There were far fewer people at the mall than one would have seen on a Friday afternoon during spring break in pre-pandemic days. Dozens, rather than hundreds, of pedestrians strolled the central, main level 2, and most of the still-open retailers had their doors flung open, admitting the sunny, warm Kona weather but few shoppers.
The good news: There was plenty of parking.
The bad news: Tables and chairs had been removed from the center’s food courts, whose establishments, starting Friday, were providing takeout only.
“Right now it’s kind of slow, but we had a good kind of traffic earlier,” said Amber Larry, a server at Blue Water Shrimp in the Makai Market Food Court, whose vast, enclosed space was mostly empty at 1:30 p.m., with several places closed.
“But today it was not as busy as usual, so we had to let one employee go home,” Larry added. “I think the customers were very surprised that there weren’t any chairs — they like to sit down and eat.”
As one customer took her food to one of the empty high tables in the middle of the space and began to eat standing up, a security guard swiftly rolled over on a Segway and told her she had to go outside.
On the fourth-level Hookipa Terrace, several restaurants were closed, but a young couple was picking up a takeout order at California Pizza Kitchen, where a smiling waitress told a reporter, “We’re pretty busy. There was a line waiting before we opened at 11 a.m.”
At Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks, a waitress handed a bag of food to three 60-something tourists. “(Business) could be a little busier,” she said, “but so far, so good. We’ll see.”
As the men sat on a bench unpacking their burgers and fries, one of them was seized by a fit of dry coughing without covering his mouth, but a family eating on a bench 10 feet away looked unperturbed.
Customers were also sparse in the Shirokiya Food Court, and, on a hot afternoon made for shave ice, Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha hadn’t yet sold a thing, the bored young women behind the counter said.
Anchor tenant Macy’s and all the haute couture and luxury goods purveyors were closed. Jewelry and watches had been whisked from the windows of Cartier, Longines and Ben Bridge, leaving behind naked mannequin necks and wrists. The door at Maui Divers was open, but staffers inside were removing pearl necklaces from display cases and stashing them in plastic freezer bags as the sweet, mournful strains of Jake Shimabukuro’s version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” drifted through the mall.
Most locally owned stores were still open, with a few tourists browsing at the likes of Tori Richard and Martin & MacArthur.
“We’re gonna close after today,” said Jesse Sato, manager at Martin & MacArthur. “We’ve got customers coming in, but,” he shrugged, “that’s just the way it is. You wanna be safe.”
Around the corner at Jams World, “So far we’re doing good because tourists want to shop and there are only a few stores open,” said Luz, a sales manager, who withheld her last name.
“I feel a little bit empty right now,” she said about all the closures, “but I believe we need to quarantine the whole island.”
By far the longest checkout lines and most local shoppers could be found at Longs and Barnes & Noble, where Honolulu resident Peter Tovas, wearing a mask, perused the bookstore’s shelves.
“I’ve been hunkering down, not going out, but I’m here to get my boys some books to study math, doing something productive instead of playing with electronics so much — I hope,” Tovas said, adding he felt self-conscious, “but my wife told me to cover up.”
In the parking lot another masked man greeted a masked reporter with a friendly wave.
Asked about his mission, “I came to pick up my last paycheck along with my cash tips,” he said.
The restaurant where he worked had closed, he said, but he had stopped working earlier, taking his vacation, because he was 74 years old and highly at risk if exposed to COVID-19.