Hawaii businesses still struggling but Memorial Day expected to bring a sales boost


HONOLULU (KHON2) — Many retailers are expecting a busy Memorial Day weekend.

Some businesses are still struggling to stay afloat, even though the economy is showing signs of improvement.

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Navigating and surviving the pandemic has been a challenge for locally-owned small businesses. Many say they would not have survived without loyal customers and help from generous landlords.

Memorial Day is one of the top three blowout shopping days, according to Nerdwallet.com, along with Black Friday and Labor Day. Retail Merchants of Hawaii president Tina Yamaki says many shops are offering deep discounts.

“We’re excited about this year now,” Yamaki said. “And hopefully it’s going to help a lot of the retailers.”

It is in stark contrast to Memorial Day 2020 when many businesses were forced to close due to the pandemic and Hawaii was slowly starting to lift stay-at-home orders.

An uptick in traffic is expected for the holiday weekend, with many schools being out and a bump in visitors.

Store owners are still cautiously optimistic.

“The pandemic has been a very humbling experience,” Freaky Tiki owner Ryken Shibasaki said. “So, in terms of expectations I’m not setting them too high. But at the same time, we’re prepared for whatever Memorial Day may bring our way.”

Shibasaki says weathering the storm has not been easy and covering rent has been a challenge.

“I have a smile on my face cause I’m trying to stay positive. I did not make money last year but my business is still open,” Shibasaki explained. “Being at the busiest shopping center in Hawaii you pay a premium to be here. But, the landlord, Brookfield Properties, has been very supportive. We appreciate all the work they’ve done to help us stay in operations here.”

Fitted owner Keola Rapozo said having a smaller space outside a major mall helped them survive.

“We have a very small retail footprint,” Rapozo said. “And per square footage, the volume we do in the store typically allows us to have a little bit of, of play there. So it certainly hurt paying for seven months and not being open.”

His landlord has been very supportive, however.

“She definitely supports all of our initiatives, and things that we’ve asked,” Rapozo said. “She never says, ‘No’. And, and she’s never raised our rent in 16 years.”

Not everyone has been as lucky.

Hundreds of businesses have closed for good since the pandemic started.

Yamaki says many owe months of rent to landlords.

“Some of these businesses are in the hundreds of thousands, to even millions of dollars in debt.”

Her message to everyone: Go shopping on Memorial Day weekend if you can.

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