HONOLULU (KHON2) — The rail is preparing to welcome riders for the grand opening of the first phase of the project in June, but construction along Dillingham Blvd. further down the line is still years from completion.
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Businesses there are being hit hard. Some have already moved out, but the Hawaii Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) said they are doing what they can to help and Honolulu City Council members have a plan to help give businesses owners some relief.
“Hopefully, things getting better,” said Elvin Lau, owner of Elvin’s Bakery which is located in the Kapalama Shopping Center.
Lau said his business dropped 20% to 30% since the rail’s utility relocation construction work started preventing customers from turning left into the center.
A block east, just beyond the Kapalama Canal and the maze of orange cones, Soul Chicken manager Jin Wook Lee said they’ve reduced their hours and cut more than half their employees to stay afloat.
“Hard right now,” Lee said. “I open seven days before, but we close Sunday [now] because the income is very low. I don’t have enough money to pay for the labor, my employees.”
If things don’t improve, he’s considering moving.
“Actually, I’m looking for another location,” Lee said.
Joey Manahan, HART Director of public involvement, said they’re doing what they can to help business owners.
“We want to say that Kalihi is open for business during construction,” Manahan said.
“We’re working, actually, with Google maps and Apple maps to be able to provide directions through the construction zone,” he explained.
That gives people who aren’t familiar with the area a clear path to businesses using shortcuts and back-roads, avoiding the many ‘No Left Turns’ signs, obstacles and construction roadblocks.
According to Manahan, HART also has a business directory on its website called Shop & Dine On the Line which features businesses.
Elvin’s Bakery is listed on the site.
But Lau isn’t sure it’s working.
“It not going to help,” Lau said. “People just try to avoid this area right now.”
He wishes the City would offer some kind of assistance.
Honolulu City Councilman Tyler Dos Santos-Tam said he and Councilmember Radiant Cordero have a plan they hope will help the 200 or so businesses impacted by construction.
“In a few weeks, we’re going to be introducing a bill that provides some property tax relief to businesses on the Dillingham corridor,” Dos Santos-Tam said.
They want to give landowners a 50% tax break. But Dos Santos-Tam said since many businesses are leases, they want to ensure the savings are passed on to the people operating the businesses.
While most businesses along Dillingham Boulevard are trying to stick it out despite the struggles, there are those who have already closed up shop.
According to Lee, at least two businesses in the same strip mall as his restaurant recently left.
“They moved, disappear,” Lee said.
“They moved already since the construction started?” asked KHON.
“Yeah. Other restaurant business they moved already,” Lee explained.
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Lau is trying to remain positive.
“Hopefully, you know, we can survive through this,” he said.