Small businesses standing strong

KAPAA — Kauai Juice Company was hopping on Saturday right about noon.

The company has been open just over a year and owner Kristal Muhich said things are going well.

“We’re trucking along and we feel like the economy is getting better and better every year,” Muhich said. “We’re still expanding and, of course, owning a small business is scary, but so far things are really, really good.”

Economists at a travel industry forum on Wednesday predicted steady economic growth in 2016 for Hawaii, and business owners on Kauai are optimistic, as well.

“I talk to other people and what they’re thinking is that it’ll be a better year,” said Marynel Velenzuela, owner of print shop Inkspot Kauai. “Let’s be open about the possibility that we’ll have a better year.”

Eugene Tian, research administrator at the state’s tourism and economic development department, said the state’s economy is predicted to expand by 2 to 2.5 percent this year.

He said the tourism industry is getting a boost from the introduction of more flights from cities like Seoul, South Korea and San Francisco.

What is troubling, he said, is the decline in visitor spending when inflation is taken into account. Tian said real visitor spending has decreased 0.7 percent a year on average from 1997 to 2014.

Mark Storfer, executive director and chief operating officer of Hilo Hattie, said the store didn’t see a decrease in visitor spending.

In fact, he said sales were up 11 percent last year over the prior year’s sales, and they’re predicting a 14 percent increase in sales this year.

“We’re concentrated on the visitor industry primarily and we’re definitely seeing business on the increase,” Storfer said. “Especially on Kauai, where there’s less retail competition, and especially since we’re an organization that’s coming out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.”

Hilo Hattie filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February of last year.

“We closed a few stores (through that process) and the Lihue store wasn’t one of them,” Storfer said. “Sales are strong on Kauai, enough that we’re even considering opening a second store on the island.”

The idea of opening a second Hilo Hattie location on Kauai is still in its “conceptual stages” Storfer said.

“Really, from our perspective, everything is going really well in retail,” Storfer said. “It’s all good.”

Katy Britzmann, director of sales for the Grand Hyatt Kauai, said the company saw positive growth in 2015 as well, and their projections for 2016 are for modest growth.

“The strength of the dollar abroad, reasonable airfares and good airlift to the island bodes well for our industry,” Britzmann said. “The visitor industry is a strong part of Kauai’s economy touching and affecting nearly all other industries. Continued diversity that supports the well-being of the island’s land and people is important.”

Velenzuela said that though the tourism industry is a strong player on Kauai, people shouldn’t rule out the power of small business on the island.

“Small businesses, I still believe we’re the foundation of the economy,” Velenzuela said. “We just need to continue to help each other out and to provide for our island, and to provide employment for our own local people.”

Even with her optimistic outlook, Velenzuela said she’s realistic about the challenges ahead.

“There’s never a doubt that there’s always going to be a challenge,” Velenzuela said, “It boils down to not just thinking of myself, but thinking of my employees and looking forward to ways to improve on what we do as a small business.”

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Jessica Else, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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