A survey of Hawaii residents confirms what most retailers already know: Many customers are reluctant to return to stores and shopping malls.
The survey by Honolulu-based SMS Research & Marketing Service Inc. found that 70% of Hawaii adults are either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about themselves or someone in their family getting sick with COVID-19.
When asked how soon they would return to commercial centers and other establishments when they reopen, only a minority responded “immediately.”
That includes restaurants, which on Thursday were given permission by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to reopen June 5, with some restrictions still in place.
According to the survey, taken earlier this month, only 19% said they would immediately return to a sit-down restaurant. In most cases, they would “wait and see” before venturing out.
Hair salons and barbershops were the category Hawaii adults said they were most likely to immediately patronize. But it was still a minority — 42% — though 14 percentage points higher than the response to shopping malls.
Many retailers and shopping malls on Oahu got the green light to reopen May 15 after being shuttered for a couple of months because of the new coronavirus pandemic. Retailers on the neighbor islands were allowed to open a week or two earlier.
Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said many stores are struggling.
“Some of them are barely hanging on,” she said, adding that many are having trouble paying their rents and are just hoping to survive until tourism is revived or the economy improves. Others will close their doors for good.
Despite the ailing market, an increasing number of retailers are opening their doors. Macy’s 11 Hawaii stores opened Friday, and the 18 Ross Dress for Less stores also opened.
Bradley Ishii, a retailer who reopened in Kahala Mall on Friday, said business appears to be off in the mall 70% and sales for his Thinker Toys and Thinker Things shops are down nearly the same.
“The governor needs to lift the 14-day travel quarantine. We need the tourists and we need them now,” he said.
While his Sanrio Surprises store is doing pretty well — because much Hello Kitty merchandise is not available from Amazon — his other stores and the rest of the mall are hurting.
Ishii said restaurants can’t open soon enough because they are a big draw to the mall.
Tom Jones, chairman of the Hawaii Restaurant Association and president and co-owner of Gyotaku restaurants, said he believes the survey’s numbers are low. He said Gyotaku is already getting reservation requests, including one for a party of 100.
“We told them, ‘Sorry we can’t book a party that big,’” he said. “We don’t even know what the restrictions are.”
Jones said he would expect loyal customers to return to his three restaurants fairly soon. After that, business may drop off, but it should slowly build over time. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if it took 18 months to reach peak 2019 business levels.
Many restaurants, including Gyotaku, applied for and received federal COVID-19 relief funds to help them retain workers and stay in business. But like the struggling merchants, many restaurants, with their tight Hawaii margins, are probably not going to survive this pandemic, he said.
Jones said people should not be afraid of eating at restaurants. Even though few new cases of coronavirus are being reported in Hawaii, he said restaurant workers will still be trying their best to keep eateries extra clean and follow all the social distancing protocols.
“It will never be safer to eat at restaurants,” he said.
The SMS survey was conducted from May 5 to May 10. A total of 402 people were surveyed across the state, resulting in a 4.8% margin of error at a 95% confidence level. SMS said the data was balanced to reflect the adult population of the state using the 2018 U.S Census Data.
SMS said it plans to undertake similar surveys every three weeks for the next few months to provide insights on how the community’s attitudes and concerns change as time passes.