Maui small companies don’t have any alternative however to alter | Information, Sports activities, Jobs

Tasaka Guri-Guri co-owner Gail Saito poses with cousin Kelly Kohatsu within the iconic Maui Mall store Thursday afternoon. Saito mentioned Kohatsu is the quickest guri-guri scooper within the land. The enduring mom-and-pop operation is among the legacy small companies that survived 2020, a hopeful signal for Maui’s cultural and financial local weather shifting ahead. The Maui Information / MATTHEW THAYER pictures

EDITOR’S NOTE: That is the third in a restricted sequence wanting again on the 12 months since COVID-19 arrived in Maui County. Every story will discover an trade immediately impacted and reshaped by the pandemic. At present’s function focuses on small companies.

KAHULUI — Regardless of the numerous uncertainties Maui County residents face amid a worldwide pandemic, maybe two issues have remained the identical: strawberry and pineapple guri-guri.

Iconic mom-and-pop enterprise Tasaka Guri-Guri — which dates again greater than a century — continues to be going sturdy, and its flavors are produced with the identical fashionable style and texture as they have been a long time in the past.

Gail Saito, who runs the household’s store with sister Cindy Tasaka-Ing, mentioned Thursday that the enterprise’ revenue is just like pre-pandemic ranges. She credit a neighborhood base, which helps the shop climate COVID-19’s financial downturn.

“Folks of Maui, they arrive,” Saito mentioned. “They’re those that saved us going.”

Particulars Boutique gross sales affiliate Jada Nascimento helps her grandmother, Naomi Hedani, store on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Heart retailer shortly earlier than it closed in June. Proprietor Marla Mings relaunched on-line in January and has been shocked at how nicely the enterprise has been doing. Hers was among the many many firms that pivoted to on-line gross sales throughout the pandemic.

The multigenerational Maui firm is one among a handful of legacy small companies which have survived 2020, a hopeful signal for Maui’s cultural and financial local weather, in line with Frank De Rego Jr., Maui Financial Growth Board director of enterprise growth initiatives.

Ron Williams, former Hawaii Tourism Authority chairman, mentioned small companies like Tasaka Guri-Guri are important to Hawaii’s economic system; they’re what domesticate tradition and neighborhood.

“Small enterprise is the spine, it’s what Hawaii’s economic system is fabricated from,” he mentioned Friday. “As we see with Love’s Bakery, we’re on the danger of dropping that.”

The U.S. Small Enterprise Administration stories that 99.3 p.c of Hawaii companies are small companies, outlined as these with 500 or fewer workers. Almost 98 p.c of the state’s small companies have fewer than 20 workers; about 82 p.c don’t have any workers in any respect.

Whereas state projections present latest indicators of hope for a sooner financial restoration than anticipated as a result of vaccination rollout, tourism reopening and federal support, native enterprise leaders agree that it’s too early to inform how a lot injury has been accomplished.

An indication at Sea La Vie encourages passers-by in April 2020. Locations like Paia become ghost cities as stay-at-home orders went into impact and prospects disappeared.

“The problem is we nonetheless don’t have nice knowledge on what number of companies have been truly misplaced,” Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Tumpap mentioned.


Many small companies, already reeling from leases and different bills that didn’t cease with the shutdowns a 12 months in the past, have been compelled to seek out methods to pivot to remain afloat.

The median revenue for self-employed people at their very own integrated companies was $48,073 in 2018. For self-employed people at their very own unincorporated companies, median revenue was $25,445, in line with the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Group Survey.

Marla Mings of Wailuku mentioned final 12 months that the pandemic wasn’t how she envisioned the tip of her 14-year-old clothes retailer, Particulars Boutique, within the Queen Ka’ahumanu Heart.

She closed her store in June, solely to seek out months later that prospects wouldn’t let go of the model, typically expressing curiosity after they would see her.

In January, she hesitantly launched a web based retail store at and mentioned Thursday that she’s shocked it’s going so nicely.

“I’m shocked — this isn’t the identical factor I used to do in any respect — nevertheless it’s going actually good,” Mings mentioned. “I used to be in a position to have sufficient of a following of individuals and sufficient curiosity in my model, in order that was a extremely large deal for me.”

The entrepreneur admits switching to know-how platforms requires a excessive studying curve. However she’s up for the problem, particularly since she’s seeing prospects take pleasure in procuring along with her once more.

“I’m actually grateful that my prospects love the model,” she mentioned.

Different enterprise house owners, corresponding to native maternity photographer Kristy Copperfield, additionally drastically modified their strategy throughout the pandemic.

From Might to January, Copperfield acquired COVID-19 examined earlier than new child periods, organized shoppers in one-week groupings and would self-quarantine till her shoots have been accomplished, sometimes seven to 10 days out of a month.

She rearranged her studio so shoppers sat about 15 ft away, wore two masks throughout taking pictures and invested in a number of Lysol and Clorox. Copperfield added that she did a number of laundry throughout that point.

“I wanted to make sure I used to be doing all I might to keep away from getting a child sick,” the Makawao resident mentioned. “The toughest half by far was isolating for seven to 10 days monthly.”

The Maui Financial Growth Board helped Maui County administer the Maui County Adaptability Fund, which offered federal cash to assist small companies of their change to well being and social distancing pointers. The fund additionally allowed small companies to spend money on know-how to increase their digital platforms, web-based advertising and marketing and e-commerce.

Companies tailored to make use of contactless point-of-sale applied sciences; Plexiglas enclosures; mechanical upgrades to incorporate COVID-19 mitigation know-how; e-commerce platforms; web site growth with on-line gross sales functionality, together with search engine marketing; use of graphics, images and videography to spotlight services; disinfection of kit and provides; creation of out of doors areas to serve shoppers and prospects; modifications to indoor work areas and buyer areas to include social distancing necessities, De Rego mentioned.

“Now we have all skilled the uptick in using know-how and its impression in all our lives as a result of pandemic,” he mentioned. “For a lot of of those companies the technological studying curve was steep, however one they have been keen to undertake. For some companies, the motion to on-line service and e-commerce opened new potentialities and an growth of their attain past the shores of Maui Nui.”


Some companies weren’t in a position to pivot.

When nonessential enterprise got here to a screeching halt a 12 months in the past with obligatory shutdowns, many by no means reopened.

After the pandemic hit, a craftsman leasing from Maui Land and Pineapple Co. in Haliimaile who relied on the tourism trade defaulted on lease for months, packed up his rental, left his unit in disarray and moved to again to the Mainland.

Different small enterprise house owners let prospects find out about their closures. Vacant business areas round Maui go away a tangible reminder of loss.

Tumpap mentioned that when the stay-at-home order went into impact final March, companies have been frantically calling.

“There was panic, anger, frustration, crying,” she mentioned. “It continued in April, Might and June as companies needed to make inconceivable selections, together with shedding their valued workers. They have been heartbroken. They might frantically name making an attempt to assist their workers get their unemployment when the state’s UI system collapsed and desperately wanted unemployment was delayed.”

Hawaii in 2020 was down 8 p.c for actual gross home product progress, the largest decline within the nation, in line with the College of Hawaii Financial Analysis Group, or UHERO. The following closest have been Wyoming (7 p.c decline), Oklahoma (6.1 p.c) and New York (5.9 p.c).

The financial devastation continues to be being tallied, UHERO mentioned, as many individuals have moved out of the state.

Tumpap mentioned the variety of companies misplaced throughout the pandemic is troublesome to quantify for numerous causes.

“Those that publicly introduced their closing, like Love’s Bakery lately, are recognized and we’ve a listing of these, however that’s removed from the complete story,” she mentioned. “It’s devastating to shut your corporation, lay off workers, lose your funding and revenue to assist your loved ones. That’s the reason numerous companies exit silently with out notifying anybody aside from their workers.”

Different firms closed briefly and have reopened, she added. Some are nonetheless contemplating whether or not to reopen, cautiously watching the economic system for indicators on what could also be forward.


One of many state’s prime economists, Carl Bonham, mentioned Thursday that regardless of Hawaii having the weakest economic system in the complete nation in 2020, higher restoration than anticipated could also be in retailer.

“The optimistic tone that we took in our first-quarter report is nearly definitely going to get replaced by an much more optimistic tone in our second-quarter report,” mentioned Bonham, UHERO’s govt director, throughout a Hawaii Financial Affiliation occasion.

Bonham mentioned Maui and Kauai have been the hardest-hit counties within the state for job losses resulting from their “very dominant” tourism sectors. Nearly half of the roles in lodging and meals companies and greater than 30 p.c in transportation and utilities have been misplaced.

“They might additionally see a number of the extra speedy, by way of share change, bounce again — not solely due to the character of math, however as a result of we all know Maui is seeing a big enhance in customer site visitors and that can assist to attract these jobs again, clearly,” he mentioned.

Bonham mentioned the nationwide vaccination rollout, Hawaii’s Protected Travels program that reopened tourism, the state’s work to convey the virus beneath management and federal support that buoyed Hawaii are elements contributing to a extra optimistic financial outlook.

One of many greatest elements bettering the forecast is vaccinations. With the vaccination rollout, presumably 60 to 70 p.c of the U.S. inhabitants could possibly be vaccinated by the summer time, and lots of will likely be considering of a Hawaii journey, he mentioned.

Additionally, a rise in shopper confidence for Hawaii is an effective signal.

“Hawaii’s confidence has been on a comparatively regular uptick, which bodes nicely for the native economic system, for the form of non-tourism-centric restoration,” he mentioned.

Nevertheless, this week’s closure of Love’s Bakery — together with different shutdowns of small companies because the pandemic onset, corresponding to Da Kitchen, Valley Isle Seafood and Horses R Us in Kahului; Sea La Vie and Sailboards Maui in Paia; and Afterglow Yoga in Kihei and Lahaina — is proof that irreversible injury has already been accomplished.

Based mostly on state projections, Tumpap and De Rego say that restoration might not occur till 2023 and 2024. They acknowledged that a lot uncertainty stays.

No matter near-term or long-term outcomes, the 2 expressed confidence within the energy of native small enterprise house owners, who typically gauge success past simply the financials.

“One can’t low cost the resilience of our folks as an element within the restoration of small companies,” De Rego mentioned. “For this inspiration, we don’t must look to the West or the East, however inside to our personal native tradition and our First Nation. The depths of malama (care) and aloha ‘aina (love for the land) which are rooted within the basis of native tradition are there for all to share, which invitations us to see our notions of progress and prosperity otherwise.”

Even throughout the worst of instances, Saito mentioned that Tasaka Guri-Guri members of the family had by no means considered shutting down.

“On occasion folks are available in and say, ‘Are you guys closing?’ And we’re like no. It was by no means behind thoughts,” she mentioned.

However for his or her household, staying open wasn’t simply concerning the backside line.

“For us, it wasn’t to generate income,” Saito mentioned Thursday. “It’s actually to serve, or to present again.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo may be reached at

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