New strategies for business owners

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Divine Planet and Koloa Trading Post owners and operators Sonja and Mike McGinnis are rethinking their survival strategy after operating successful, visitor-oriented businesses in Koloa and Hanalei.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Mike and Sonja McGinnis of Divine Planet and Koloa Trading Post are happy to be open again, but lamenting the lack of visitors that had been the core of their businesses.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Nadine Riso shows a hefty string of Ni‘ihau shells at Christian Riso Fine Art Gallery in Old Koloa Town.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Nadine Riso repositions a Ni‘ihau-shell lei at Christian Riso Fine Art Gallery in Old Koloa Town.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    A variety of wood bracelets sit in a display case inside the Christian Riso Fine Art Gallery in Old Koloa Town.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Nadine Riso shows off business partner and artist Christian Riso’s chicken painting at Christian Riso Fine Art Gallery in Old Koloa Town.

KOLOA — On May 8, Divine Planet business owners Mike McGinnis and Sonja McGinnis opened their doors for the first time since they were forced to close due to the pandemic and, since then, their sales have been about 5% or 10% of what they were before businesses were closed.

“Honestly, most of our focus before this pandemic has been on tourism. Our stores were built for the traffic flow of tourists,” said Mike McGinnis, explaining they’ve been looking at ways to rearrange their business model to stay afloat. “There are days where we don’t even make a sale, no one even comes into the store.”

The McGinnis ‘ohana has two stores in Hanalei at the Ching Young Village Shopping Center, and two in Koloa, all of which sell gifts and souvenirs, called Divine Planet and Koloa Trading Post. They closed everything for almost two months, and restarted just as they got the Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Employees are adjusting to new rules, like providing hand sanitizer and enforcing mask-wearing.

“Now we have our staff back, but there is no foot traffic, so it’s a real struggle to pay rent,” Mike McGinnis said.

One switch in strategy has been to promote items that will appeal to Kaua‘i residents.

“We do have a lot of great stuff that our local customers always have liked,” said Sonja McGinnis. “We start setting our beads and bead-making supplies over at our Koloa store. People have a lot of extra time, so they can be making stuff and look at YouTube videos for help.”

In addition to the items they import into their store, the couple also makes their own gifts and souvenirs.

“Two years ago I bought a laser, a special printer,” said Mike McGinnis. “So we print wood post cards, signs, posters and photo frames.”

Through the challenges, the couple said it still “feels good to be back out there and be able to reopen.”

Down the street in Koloa lies Christian Riso Fine Art Gallery, which also reopened the first week in May and was closed for more than a month. The establishment sells fine art and provides framing services.

Co-owner Nadine Riso said the business had to let two employees go because of loss of business. The other owner — Christian Riso — lives on the Mainland, and usually visits to check in on the gallery every three months. Currently, Nadine Riso is the only one in the gallery.

Although Riso’s gallery is open, at the time of her interview with The Garden Island she hadn’t seen a customer in about a week.

“Today I saw three people come into our shop, including you and my neighbors,” said Riso during the interview inside the gallery.“The last time I saw a customer in the gallery was last Saturday. They came to pick up framing we did. I didn’t have one potential customer walk in since then.”

In total since reopening, Riso has made five transactions and, like the McGinnis family, the gallery is now considering new business strategies.

“We are thinking maybe create an online business. We don’t know. We went through (Hurricane) ‘Iniki, but it’s nothing compared to this. We are still trying to figure out what to do,” Riso said.

Originally from France, Riso has lived on Kaua‘i for 30 years.

As they’re struggling to make ends meet, small business owners are doing their best to take care of each other, too. Sonja McGinnis said the family supports local restaurants and chooses to shop at farmers’ markets instead of chain stores whenever possible.

“Obviously, we don’t have a lot of extra money to go order take-out all the time, but when we do try to go out, we try to support local restaurants,” she said.

And even though they’re struggling, business owners said they’re happy they can at least open their doors.

“It felt really good to be back out there and be able to reopen,” Sonja McGinnis said.

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Stephanie Shinno, features and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.

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