HONOLULU (KHON2) — While the state’s unemployment rate remains unchanged, Maui’s unemployment rate rose last month following August’s devastating wildfires.
According to the state department of business, economic development and tourism, the valley isle’s unemployment rate rose to 8.4% in September, which is up 3.4% from one year ago.
During a Maui economic recovery webinar with state tourism and business officials, including Lahaina business owners, officials showed slides about unemployment numbers, future arrivals, and where jobs have been lost. Officials said Maui did not fully recovery after COVID, and the fires are just another blow.
Business owners said their staff are moving off island and they need financial help soon.
The LahainaTown Action Committee said 90% of businesses want to rebuild back on Front Street, but know the rebuild could be anywhere from five to 10 years.
“Right now, as far as I can see, there haven’t been meetings strictly for businesses,” explained Sne Patel with LahainaTown Action Committee.
“There’s a great urge to want to get back to having their business on Front Street, and the land owners wan to rebuild there too, however, they need help because this is such a huge impact on them and everything seems up in the air right now,” he continued.
He said businesses need commercial debt relief.
Some Front Street businesses are looking for new leases in other spots on the Valley Isle.
Patel said Maalaea is going to become a temporary ‘new Lahaina harbor’ with so much foot traffic.
Sean Corpuel owns Cool Cat Cafe and Captain Jack’s, which were both on Front Street, and is looking at a spot in Kihei to open business. He said of the 120 employees he had, about 20 percent have left the island.
Two of Javier Barberi’s businesses on Front Street burned during the fire, Down the Hatch Maui and Breakwall Shave Ice. Mala Ocean Tavern and Duckine survived the fire on Front Street, but they’re unable to open for business because there is no clean water. He has one business in operation but 70% of his staff have started working at other businesses on Maui or have moved to the mainland.
He said he’s trying to find another location too, but commercial rents have skyrocketed since the fires with limited inventory and space.
“Our owner did say that she plans on rebuilding the Wharf on Front Street, and she would love to have us back because we were one of her primary tenants, and we’d love to be back there. But that’s three to five or who knows how many years away that is. So we got to figure out what to do now, especially because we’re losing so many people every day.”Javier Barberi, business owner
He said the hard part is not getting any government assistance like small businesses were able to receive during COVID.
“PPP, they gave us money to keep paying our staff while we were closed, so it kept everybody employed,” said Barberi. “It was like football team, you kept your team, you know, but now there is none of that. So now your team is slowly going to other teams because you’re on the sidelines, you’re not playing and they have to find another team that’s playing.”
He said he received a $1,000 grant so far and said that is nothing for the many bills he has to pay with four of his five businesses not making any money.
“Without any assistance, Lahaina is going to be completely run by different companies,” he added. “And I’d say, probably, like 80% of the businesses won’t come back, you know, there’ll be some that come back, but much people can’t hold on like that without assistance.”
Many businesses barely recovered from COVID, and many said starting from scratch again is too much.
“To start from scratch, again, it takes a lot of effort, a lot of energy, a lot of positivity, and a lot of us don’t have that right now,” Barberi continued. “Like we’re drained, we’re dealing with this chaos and I don’t see Lahaina being the same way if the government doesn’t step in and really start helping our businesses in like a serious fashion.”
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Maui County Council will have a final reading on Bill 93 relating to business grants on Friday.