Businesses struggle to stay open

PO‘IPU — The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort &Spa will be closing temporarily on Dec. 7 in a move to further protect its staff.

Tina Malabe, a 30-year employee at the front desk, said it’s bittersweet to close after a month, but that it’s “best for the health of the community, but it still feels sad.”

“I teared up yesterday when a repeat guest said that they were so sorry that we were shutting down,” Malabe said. “We’ve been busy wrapping things up to close but when they said that, it really hit me and I realized how sad I was about closing again. They wanted to come around the plexiglass to give me a hug when he saw my tears but we just can’t now.”

General Manager Dan King was notably somber with his statement.

“It was so exciting to reopen in November and have our team back,” King said. “It was great to welcome guests and see residents come for staycations as well as sushi at Stevenson’s and dinners at Tidepools.”

The average length of a guest’s stay was between four and five days, King said.

“Being quarantined to their room would not work for them,” he said.

Resort staff said it was nice to be open, but its still unclear when the hotel will reopen, but Diann Hartman, director of marketing communications, said staff is looking into it.

“We will be re-looking at situation reopening at the end of the year, and go from there,” Hartman said.

Hartman said the temporary cease of operation has affected so many employees, yet there will be staff to take care of the property, the same staff that has been working through the pandemic.

Small businesses, like Emperor’s Emporium in Old Koloa Town, are being affected, too, by the county enforcing the 14-day quarantine rule to travelers which went into effect on Dec. 2.

Emperor’s Emporium’s owner Jerry Vigil, 79, doesn’t agree with the county’s rule.

“I don’t know if it was a good solution, it was more of a knee jerk move, because I got to do something,” Vigil said. “It seems (Mayor Derek Kawakami) has a lot of supporters, of course they are going to support the 14-day quarantine. They are right, if we are able to limit the number of people coming in then we are going to limit the number of people who are going to get COVID-19. That’s in a perfect world, but we don’t live in a perfect world.”

Vigil has been working every day at his shop for the past 30 years selling Hawaiian-made products to tourists and says, fortunately, he has it better than most. However, on his block, he seen four businesses close down for good since the pandemic started.

“They will not be coming back, so that’s close to 25%. Each one of those people is a story, they suffered in their own way, so when the mayor is so magnanimous when he says, ‘I am going to take care of you, I am going to close you down, I am going to support you by making sure that nobody is going to come to Kaua‘i,’” Vigil said. “Nobody is going to visit Kaua‘i just to quarantine for 14 days.”

He continued: “I am at an advantage because I am getting social security, and that is how I survived. Now during the times when I was coming in, when the tourist was not allowed to come in, I was doing $50-100 a day. You can’t support a store like ours on that kind of revenue. I normally, during a regular-season it takes about $1,500 a day just to break even.”

Vigil points out the changes he made during the pandemic, and said his overhead cost is minimal compared to other stores on his strip.

“But if I am the only one working and I have no employees, and no taxes, GE taxes are so minimal, so the only thing I have to pay for is are things like electricity, air conditioning, some other things, very very minimal overhead,” Vigil said. “And I don’t stay open, like I normally would have, coming in at 10 a.m. and staying until 6 p.m.”

When the state reopened on the Safe Travels program on Oct. 15, Vigil said he made $300-$800 dollars a day.

“We can survive on that,” Vigil said. “Even when the doors are not completely opened, and we don’t have the same numbers of tourists we had last year, we can actually survive on that, and I think most places could. But when you completely shut us down, we are completely out of business and there is no way for us to survive.”

Vigil is hoping the county is able to reconsider the two-week quarantine. Mayor Derek Kawakami has stated before he would prefer a mandatory three-day quarantine and second test to the full 14-day quarantine.

“When we are in lockdown again, I go back to those people in the county building and the mayor are isolated,” Vigil said. “They are receiving full paycheck, and they do overtime because they have to do a lot of stuff, and meanwhile the rest of us are suffering and I don’t think that they have any way of recognizing the kind of hurt that is in the community. I don’t think they can other than they want to keep us safe. I don’t know if there is a perfect way to keep everybody safe.”

Vigil also mentioned that the only way he was able to survive this long was because of his property managers.

“The only way we have been able to survive, was because our property managers from Old Koloa Town have been supporting us by reducing our rent,” Vigil said. “You know, I cannot even tell you. They are the only reason, that we survive. I now owe close to $80,000 in back rent, yet they allowed me to pay a percentage rent during those times where we only make $500 a month. They allowed me to turn in a rent payment of $50 at one point.”

8 Comments
  1. Uncleaina December 3, 2020 6:33 am Reply

    Sorry for Virgil. But – how many rooster t shirt sales equal one Kipuna? How many Aloha mugs equals one person on a ventilator? These firms should be getting support via PPP or other programs. The banks have gotten 3 TRILLION dollars- enough for each American to get about $12,000 but it’s been given to large corporations instead of small business. That’s on Trump and Ige, not mayor Kawakami. Tourists are flying here knowing they have Covid and they come anyway.


  2. Mark Wolfendale December 3, 2020 3:09 pm Reply

    What is the downside of the Mayor’s original plan for two tests? One before you get on the plane and one after 3 or 4 days in quarantine at a bubble resort? The governor’s plan opens the community to a surge which could result in shutting down the island and our current 14 day quarantine which will stop tourism. The Mayor’s plan provide safety for our island and still allows tourists to experience Kauai after a few days in a luxury resort.


  3. Tuapa December 3, 2020 3:11 pm Reply

    At some point this is all going to come crashing down. There is no way we can continue to not be employed. Do most of you realize the reason your taxes are fairly low is because of tourism? Do you realize we don’t produce anything on this island other than tourist goodies and coffee? Do you understand that the one person who died from covid on this island had underlining conditions? One death and 11 months of self imposed prison life within the island. Suicide is up, mental health is a problem and if you don’t believe me try getting a appointment to see a shrink. Children who have the lowest infection rate are being told to stay at home and learn at home, not such a great plan. Kids are NOT learning anything. Our food banks are wiped out, people have been waiting for months for unemployment and those that did receive unemployment are running out. With no stimulus package in sight, good luck on getting any monetary relief. Lastly, those who want the Hawaiian Kingdom back, this is a sample of what to expect……


    1. Dana December 3, 2020 9:00 pm Reply

      I am all for protecting Kauai kapuna but there needs to be two pronged approach. At some point the staffing and hospital capacity at Wilcox needs to be addressed. Too many businesses can’t continue to survive snd underkying infrastructure needs to be addressed.


  4. Hirondelle December 3, 2020 5:34 pm Reply

    I believe that the two travelers who boarded the plane in San Francisco after testing positive for Covid 19 at the airport were not tourists. They were residents of Kauai.


  5. J.D. December 3, 2020 6:27 pm Reply

    Trump allocated the money. Why has he state and county not giving it to the people. In Minnesota we received our ppp money April 20, 2020.


  6. WESTSIDE December 3, 2020 9:23 pm Reply

    There are no great solutions here. The current quarantine does economic, mental and emotional harm. Opening up risks overwhelming our health care system. Which is more important? The known harm of closing down, or the potential harm of opening up. Great ethical question. I would not want to be the mayor and have to make that decision. The one thing I am amazed at is the Mayor is still taking his paycheck. As a leader, he should do as he is asking others to do and that is to sacrifice for the greater good. He loses credibility and shows a complete lack of empathy for those adversely affected. Leadership is much more than just making decisions, it is modeling the behavior you expect of others. Come on Derek now is the time to lead by example.


    1. Geevieve December 7, 2020 5:12 pm Reply

      California governor news on likes to live by example
      He dined in a very expensive restaurant with the heads of the california medical association without masks or fearful distance in an “outdoor’ room with three walls and a sliding glass door. He essentially says do as I say, not as I do, and if I am caught l’ll apologize..


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