If two months in isolation taught the Lutu family anything, it was this: They needed more forks.
Fortunately for Matt and Haili Lutu and their 1-year-old daughter, Kalisi, the door to deeply discounted flatware was just 30 yards and about 15 minutes away Sunday afternoon as they and a long but orderly line of fellow shoppers waited to enter the newly reopened Ross Dress for Less in Iwilei.
The national discount chain closed all of its locations, including 20 in Hawaii, on March 20 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Select locations around the country began reopening May 15 to large crowds and, in McAllen, Texas, a brawl between customers. The Hawaii stores reopened Sunday in much more peaceable manner.
Photo Gallery: Lines form at Oahu Ross Dress for Less stores
The Lutus picked the Iwilei location thinking it would be less crowded than the Keeaumoku Street store they usually visit. When they arrived there was a line of about 40 people outside the store, most of whom were already wearing masks. An employee was stationed at the door letting in as many shoppers as were leaving to ensure the total number in the store did not exceed 137 — the maximum allowable to maintain proper social distancing within the shopping area inside.
Four bottles of Purell hand sanitizer were made available for customers as they entered. Another employee patrolled the area with a spray bottle to disinfect carts and high-touch areas.
The precautions were reassuring to the Lutus, who haven’t ventured out much since the initial stay-at-home orders were announced. Matt Lutu, who worked for Hawaiian Airlines and a luau company, has been out of work. His wife has continued to work as a second grade teacher at Manoa Elementary. They’ve been surviving in part thanks to community food-distribution programs at Aloha Stadium and Papakolea.
“We’ve been eating at home a lot,” said Matt Lutu, laughing. “And we just realized during this pandemic that we don’t have enough forks.”
A few shoppers back, Trisha Maedugay, 14, of Iwilei waited patiently with her family for a long-awaited return to one of her favorite stores. The 14-year-old Farrington High School student hoped to enjoy some quality time in the clothes and beauty aisles.
“Things that are expensive at other places are cheap here,” she said. “The jeans are really cheap.”
Akiko Miyata, 33, of Makiki made an unplanned stop with her two daughters on their way home from an errand. She said she felt safe being out, despite the relatively large group of people in line.
“I think if everybody is wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance and being aware of each other, everything will be OK,” she said.
Nirlepa Caridad, 51, of Makiki, however, took one look at the line and decided she’d wait for another day to return a few items she’d bought earlier in the day at another location.
Caridad said she waited a half-hour in line at the McCully store to pick up some clothes and household items. A mask dangled off of one ear as she drew a breath of fresh air several yards away from the nearest person. All that carbon dioxide was making her ill, she said.
“As a whole, I think people in Hawaii have more consideration,” she said. “When people are sick, they already wear masks. (COVID-19) was just an extra push.”
The scene was much the same at the Kahala Mall location, where more than 20 people waited in line in the late afternoon. With smaller square-footage, the store was allowing inside no more than 89 shoppers at a time.
Tim and Michelle Bishop of Kaimuki came looking for a few odds and ends for the residence they and their two boys moved into in January. They expected the store to be busy and were not deterred by the line.
The couple said they’ve fared as well as can be expected during the lockdown. They’re just disappointed for their boys, whose academic careers at Waialae Elementary and Kaimuki Middle School ended without proper goodbyes.
As it was for many, the Bishops’ trip to Ross on Sunday was another tentative step toward normalcy. The recent numbers have given them a measure of hope, one only slightly tempered by the signs of premature incaution they see in parks and beaches during their family drives.
“We’ve done so well as a state,” said Michelle Bishop. “We don’t want it to restart and have everything shut down again.”