Kailua town is a little more quiet these days, without so many tourists, due to travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gone are the tour buses that parked near the Longs Drugs parking garage, which dropped off tourists to browse and shop. Gone are the visitors who rode around on rented bikes while balancing maps on their handlebars, along with the constant morning crowd waiting for a table at Boots and Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen.
Instead, there is an occasional pop-up bloodmobile from Blood Bank of Hawaii, seeking donations during these trying times.
During the pandemic, essential businesses such as grocery stores and drugstores have had a constant flow of customers. But numerous boutiques closed down during stay-at-home orders, some papered over, while some restaurants — but not all — switched to takeout.
As foot traffic trickled down, signs on storefronts informed customers of temporary closures, while others with huge letters attempted to advertise they were still open.
Many small businesses in the town have struggled, and, understanding the economic hardship, organizers that solicit donations for the annual 4th of July Kailua Fireworks announced its cancellation.
It’s been a roller coaster following all the directives, according to Lane Muraoka, owner of Big City Diner.
“Every hour it changed,” said Muraoka, who closed the Kailua eatery in March and reopened April 27. “There was so much uncertainty.”
Muraoka initially pared down his restaurants from five to two for takeout, and then invested in technology to make online ordering available at bigcitydiner hawaii.com.
That involved training, as well as dealing with technical glitches. But Muraoka ventured forward, and selling $2 beers to go with meals has been a hit, so far. He said that fortunately, the Kailua location has a regular clientele that remain supportive.
Others ventured forward as well. Donut King, a family- run business, managed to open its doors at Kailua Shopping Center earlier this month to a line of customers waiting near a set of outdoor chairs and tables cordoned off by yellow tape.
On Friday the beach town got a boost as more than a dozen boutiques opened their doors for the first time since stay-at-home orders went into effect in March. More are expected to do so in upcoming weeks.
Among them was Global Village, a local business in Kailua for 25 years.
During a two-month closure, Global Village, like many retailers, had switched to online sales, but that had never been its focus, so it was challenging.
The doors to Global Village were open at 10 a.m. Friday, with new signs and stickers on the floor reminding people to wear face masks and maintain 6 feet of social distancing. Inside, an employee smiled broadly at customers from behind a clear face shield.
Upon hearing of the possibility of reopening, co-owners Debbie Ah Chick-Hopkins and her sister Dawn Ravelo rushed to get the boutique ready. The Plexiglas barrier — now a standard part of most retail stores — was up, as well as a hand sanitizer station up front.
Ah Chick-Hopkins said she was able to bring back three employees for the weekend reopening.
“Because we’re such a neighborhood mom-and pop shop, we do have a lot of loyal customers that are local and who have been overwhelmingly supportive,” she said. “We’re just hoping that people will come back and visit us.”
Among other stores that opened up on Friday were Global Village neighbors Kailua Moon and SoHa Living, along with Guava Shop and Island Bungalow on Hekili Street, and Crazy Shirts at Lau Hala Shops.
At Kailua Shopping Center, BookEnds, an independent bookstore, also reopened Friday, and had customers browsing its shelves.
“Everyone is so excited and we’re excited,” said owner Pat Banning on Friday. “Everyone expresses that they hope we can stay open. Kailua’s such a great town in that everyone expresses concern for their local shops.”
Nearby, Lanikai Bath & Body has been offering online sales and curbside pickup since late March. Owner Brook Gramman said, however, she will likely not reopen until June.
Gramman said hand sanitizers have been her saving grace during the pandemic. The shop, which has been in Kailua 15 years, has long offered hand sanitizers among its line products, but the demand for them has been unprecedented.
Online sales were already available, but they made up a small percentage of sales, while the physical store had been the bulk of business.
Among the challenges that Gramman faces now is how to offer customers a way to test a bath or body product.
“We are highly experiential in that we have testers for everything,” she said, “and people purchase products based on what they can try and test, so we’re figuring that out right now.”
In addition, Gramman said there is a shortage of wholesale bottle containers from 2 to 8 ounces, which are out of stock due to the demand for sanitizers and disinfectants.
To support her fellow businesses, Gramman offered “safety packs” of four 8-ounce hand sanitizers to other boutiques in Kailua, including Global Village, to help them reopen.
The beleaguered Pali Lanes bowling alley, which faced an uncertain future before the pandemic hit, closed in late March as state and city stay-at-home orders went into effect.
Christian Arakawa, vice president and youth coach, said Pali Lanes was the first bowling alley to close down on Oahu.
February, when A&B placed Pali Lanes on a month-to-month lease, was actually looking hopeful.
Pali Lanes had been trying to repair its snack bar, which remains closed, and is considering other initiatives, including the installation of WiFi and credit card readers. Hawaii Pacific University business students virtually presented a number of ideas to boost business at Pali Lanes.
Arakawa said he has been watching the fate of bowling alleys on the mainland, wondering when Pali Lanes might be able to reopen.
“When Like Like Drive Inn closed, I thought, are we next?” he said. “There is a possibility we might not reopen. I miss coaching the kids.”
This time, however, Pali Lanes is not the only one struggling.
Island Olive Oil, which offers food products including pasta, is considered an essential business, according to co-owner Brian Foster, but hours were initially reduced.
After obtaining the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan in May, the business brought some employees back and extended hours at both its Ward and Kailua stores. Right now the shop allows only four customers in at a time, and adjusted by offering curbside pickup and deliveries.
“We’re monitoring the situation closely,” said Foster. “Everything is so fluid and developing so quickly, you have to take a look at it all. … Everybody’s being as flexible as they can. But we’re hanging in there, and we’re not going to give up.”
While visitors brought in business, Foster said local residents had been the target demographic, and he is humbled by the support they have shown.
“I don’t think any of us has lived through this in our lifetime,” he said. “It’s unprecedented. We’ve all got to stick together.”
Alexander & Baldwin Inc., which owns the majority of retail properties in Kailua town, has offered its tenants rent deferrals due to the unprecedented situation.
“While the majority of our Kailua tenants serve the local community, we know that some rely on visitors to support their businesses,” said A&B spokeswoman Lynn Kenton in an email. “Importantly, tourism does drive the broader health of our state’s economy which is important to all of our tenants, so we are engaging with each impacted tenant on a case-by-case basis to determine how we can best help them remain open or to re-open once they are allowed to do so.”
A&B initially offered rent deferral for April, but has since offered additional months due to the extended stay-at-home order.
Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell approved the reopening of Oahu retail businesses and malls on Friday but have extended general stay-at-home orders through June 30. Ige also approved Caldwell’s plan to allow restaurants to offer dine-in services, with restrictions, on June 5.
REOPENING IN KAILUA TOWN
>> Just opened Friday: BookEnds, Coco’s Trading Post, Crazy Shirts, D’Vine Kailua Wine Bar, Fatboy’s, Global Village, Guava Shop, Island Bungalow, Island Treasures, Kimo’s Surf Hut, Paradise Soccer Club, Twin Islands, Twogood Kayaks, Weller Hobbycrafts, Windward Jewelers (Reopened May 1: Island Olive Oil, That Barn Hawaii)
>> Reopening soon: Fighting Eel, Kailua Crystals, Lanikai Bath & Body, Mother Bakery, Picket Fence Florist
For updates, follow @kailuatownhi on Instagram and Facebook.
Source: Alexander & Baldwin Inc.