HONOLULU (KHON2) — Thousands of unemployment claims have been filed in Maui County since the fires struck, at the same time, many businesses said employees are leaving the island searching for opportunities, leaving local business owners with lots of uncertainty. 

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The co-founder of Cheeseburger in Paradise Laren Gartner said it is still hard to believe that the building where their restaurant stood for 35 years burned completely to the ground. 

“That building was burned down to the ground Cheeseburger in Paradise did $200 million in sales of cheeseburgers in that location,” Gartner said. “It’s a legacy property, it’s an iconic building, for me personally and for my partner Edna, to believe that it’s gone is next to impossible.”

The number of unemployment claims in Maui County since the fires is staggering, data from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization said 10,448 new claims for unemployment were filed in the four weeks since the fires. That represents more than 11% of all employment in Maui County. 

Gartner said many of their employees from Lahaina have left the island or the state. 

Gartner said, “We sent some to Oahu, that were willing to stay in Hawaii. Some of them went on to Wailea but the majority the great majority of them left Maui and I’m afraid they left Maui for good.”

The governor’s office said more information for businesses to apply for an immediate bridge grant between $10,000 and $20,000 will be available soon. 

Dozens of impacted businesses are expected to continue paying rent, even if their locations remain closed or burned down. 

The Hawaii Restaurant Association Executive Director Sheryl Matsuoka said that aid cannot come soon enough and some restaurateurs are looking for other options to stay afloat. 

“I’ve heard all the different things that restaurants are thinking of right now, do I relocate to another part of Maui, do I go to Kahului, do I go to Wailuku, do I go to Kaanapali do I even just give it up and get out of the industry because they’ve gone through the pandemic,” Matsuoka said. “They know how difficult it is.”

Gartner said she is not planning on rebuilding in Lahaina. 

Gartner said, “Sadly after 35 years, I can’t imagine well not in my lifetime at any rate and I am not sure what the powers that be have in mind for Lahaina.”

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For local businesses still standing, Maui County is encouraging owners to register on Maui Nui First’s website for a free listing to help bolster their marketing efforts.