Watumull’s — one of Oahu’s iconic retailers for visitor-oriented aloha attire and one of the original tenants at Ala Moana Center — is scheduled to close June 30 under the uncertainty of the COVID-19 shutdown and what it means for isle tourism.
“We’re sad to have to close,” said President J.D. Watumull, grandson of company founder Jhamandas Watumull, who came to Hawaii in 1914 and founded what the company believes is Hawaii’s first Indian-owned business.
“It’s tough,” J.D. Watumull said. “We feel bad for our longtime employees and for our customers that returned year after year, mostly visitors. We were selling aloha.”
Watumull’s was one of Ala Moana’s original tenants 60 years ago. The upcoming shutdown means the closure of the company’s 950-square-foot space on the ground floor at Ala Moan’s Center Court and the end of six jobs.
Watumull said the company was unable to reach terms on a new lease at a time when it could not get clear direction from government officials on when to expect a resurgence of tourists to Oahu.
“We’re all being affected, right?” Watumull said.
On its website the company said that some of its 1940s-era aloha shirts are now collector’s items.
Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said Watumull’s represents untold Hawaii businesses that are struggling under COVID-19 uncertainty and what it all means for what had been another record-setting year for isle tourism.
“It’s not only the small local businesses like Watumull’s that are closing,” Yamaki said. “The longer that we don’t have tourists coming in, we’re going to see more businesses failing.”
Watumull’s upcoming closure represents the growing concern across an entire, tour-based economy and beyond, Yamaki said.
“There’s a misconception that it’s small, mom-and-pop businesses that are being affected,” she said. “It’s also the medium-sized businesses, the larger businesses. It doesn’t matter if you’re locally owned, nationally owned or intentionally owned, everyone is being affected.”
But Watumull’s, in particular, catered to a repeat visitor market that faithfully returned specifically for Watamull’s attire aimed at men, women and families, Yamaki said.
“When people come to Hawaii, they want to buy something that represents Hawaii — that’s what Watumull’s did,” Yamaki said. “They had a loyal following.”
For now some businesses are offering kamaaina discounts that cannot keep them afloat indefinitely, Yamaki said.
“Deep discounts aren’t going to last forever,” she said.