Storms take toll on North Shore businesses

For many businesses in the North Shore community of Hanalei, the recent storms took more than a toll on roads and homes.

With the frequent and sustained closing of Kuhio Highway near the one-lane bridge that connects Hanalei to the rest of Kaua‘i, many businesses, some already coping with a tough economy, saw a sharp drop in revenue.

“We were closed for five days, which was huge. That’s thousands of dollars lost, and once you’re closed, people are slow to come back,” said Gritt Benton, owner of Yellowfish Trading Co. in Hanalei Center.

 Referring to the highway, Benton said, “It’s not only when it’s closed. People hearing it might close run away, and they’re shy to come back because they’re afraid they might get caught.”

With the highway closed due to the Hanalei River overflowing its banks, Hanalei was cut off from the rest of Kaua‘i, and shop and restaurant employees who live elsewhere could not get to their jobs, which also meant a loss of pay.

“My employees have missed shifts, so they’re without wages” for those shifts, Benton said.  “So it’s trickle down.”

Benton’s words were echoed by other business owners in Hanalei, including Melanie Kuebler, owner of the Spinning Dolphin Design T-shirt shop.  

“With this economy, just when you think you’re starting to come back, something like this happens,” Kuebler said.

   Narcine Conception said her Village Snack Shop was closed for four days because she and her employees were unable to get to the shop to open it.

   That wasn’t a problem for Scott Olson of the Pedal ‘n Paddle shop, because he lives in Hanalei, even though his house was flooded.  But he reported seeing many visitors who could not leave Hanalei sitting in their cars or looking for something to eat.

   That proved to be good for business for at least one restaurant, Tahiti Nui, which might be familiar to moviegoers who have seen “The Descendants.”

    Koko Kaneali‘i and Romey “Keola” Yokotake, musicians who entertain at Tahiti Nui (and who are seen doing so in the film) both said business there was good during the storms because many people simply were looking for a place to eat.

  They think a permanent solution to the flooding from the Hanalei River would be to raise the level of the highway, which is maintained by the state. “When the road closes, everything stops,”  Kaneali‘i said, but added that he doesn’t expect a solution to the problem any time soon.

   Several business people in the area said the effects of the road closures continue, because some visitors who think their vacations were ruined by the weather are in no mood to shop.

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