HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii has seen several businesses close their doors for good due to the pandemic, but there were some people who started their small business dream just before the first shutdown came and they have managed to remain open.
Kevin Wilson, co-owner of Ocean Outfitters Hawaii, spent the last months of 2019 finishing up his boat for operation in 2020.
He finalized all the permits in early March and was ready to offer snorkeling, big wave, dolphin and whale tours.
The Department of Land and Natural Recourses Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation suspended all commercial operator permits on March 20 after the first case of community spread was announced in Hawaii.
“It was intense, it went from just people everywhere to just nobody,” Wilson said. “Haleiwa was a ghost town.”
The bills kept coming, but Wilson said the state helped assist and his insurance company helped keep his business afloat.
Wilson reached out to the local community for support when tour operators got the green light to resume operations in May.
“The community, military, they all had a lot of support for us being a new business,” he said.
Wilson started offering kamaaina and military discounts and his new company started to expand via social media and through online reviews.
“We pulled it off, we’re still here, and we’re able to do this, so support local everyone,” he said.
Delys Okuyama quit her well-paying Honolulu job in 2019 to pursue her dream of opening her own business.
She and her husband Jeff put everything they had into starting Kula Shave Ice on Oahu’s North Shore.
They spend the first couple of months driving the truck to new locations, farmers markets and events, but were looking for a permanent location to set up their business.
They found a permanent spot next to Farm to Barn in Haleiwa on Jan. 21, 2020.
Gov. David Ige announced the statewide stay-at-home order two months later on March 23.
“I didn’t want to believe it, when you finally get to do something that you’ve worked so hard to do, to hear that something can come and take it away from you is very scary,” Delys Okuyama said, in tears.
The couple applied for Personal Protection Plan loans but were denied because they did not have the required paperwork needed from the year before.
“Being a new business, you don’t have any proof that you’re a legit business,” Okuyama explained. “We didn’t have the proper documents to prove our sales, or what we made last year.”
She said, it was scary being denied the first time.
“We’re like ‘okay we’re not getting any help now, what are we going to do when we maxed ourselves out with opening the business?’” she said.
She said, they did get some money in May from the Small Business Association’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
“We tried to check every single avenue, we didn’t accept no for an answer so we did get a little chunk right around then and then we opened in May and hired employees in July,” Okuyama recalled.
She and her husband applied for Hawaii relief a second time and were approved.
“So, don’t give up, that’s definitely a lesson we learned when one door closed, we went to find another one so there is help out there even for new businesses,” she said.
Okuyama said, there were many difficult nights of fears and doubts, but she remained positive and adjusted her business to City and County of Honolulu regulations.
“We realized we have to really do everything we can to try and survive this time, because my husband and I put everything we have into it, and failure wasn’t in the picture,” she said.
She resorted to call-in orders and delivering shave ice to car windows when outdoor seating was closed.
“If we were any other business like a retail store, or a bar, I wouldn’t be standing with you today and we’re very aware of that, and we’re grateful to have this open space where people can socially distance and feel more comfortable because they’re not confined,” she said.
She advises other businesses to try to open and not to give up.
Okuyama and Wilson said, they would not be open today if it was not for the support of the local community.
“I think what has been so beautiful during this scary time is the coming together of the community like I’ve never seen before and truly remembering that we have each other here,” she said. “The tourists come and they go and right now they’re not really here, and we do have each other and we can survive and get through this with each other’s help,” Okuyama said.