Areas closed for rail construction may no longer reopen as businesses struggle to survive

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Drivers trying to get through Kamehameha Highway in Waimalu literally have nowhere to turn with many of the left-turn lanes closed for construction along the rail line.

It’s frustrating for those behind the wheel that’s in turn causing businesses to fail at turning a profit, because drivers either don’t want to take a pit stop or simply can’t find an easy way to do so.

“Sometimes they come, but otherwise it’s a turn-off for them,” said Eva Baniqued with Alyssandra’s Lumpia Express. “There have been times this parking lot is empty. You can count the cars that come in.”

Now officials with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation tell us some of the left-turn lanes that have been closed while crews build the rail guideway may be closed for good.

Officials say they are no longer safe because of the placement of rail columns, and they’re conducting a study now to see if it’s safer to put in U-turns at certain lights.

When we’ll be able to see any changes? That remains unclear. Meanwhile, businesses are taking it day by day, penny by penny.

“We are just hanging on because our sales have definitely dropped and we have only risen since we opened. We’ve never gone down, even in the depression, and this is our worst crisis that we’ve ever had,” said Linda Matsuo, president of Shiro’s Saimin Haven.

Businesses like Shiro’s have been working with HART to try to come up with new ways to attract customers, like the Shop and Dine on the Line program, which encouraged businesses to put out coupons and specials to draw in customers.

“I guess the discounts weren’t as attractive as people thought they would be,” Matsuo said.

While Shop and Dine wasn’t the godsend Shiro’s was hoping it would be, Matsuo says they did see a bump in business this summer, thanks to an unlikely source.

“So we finally found out that we were a Pokémon stop, and we found out about this fabulous program, and we got our young kids who work here to put out lures,” she said. “I dunno what that means, but yeah, so that brought our sales up in July and August to pre-rail levels.”

But as kids went back to school and Pokémon Go’s hype died down so did the profits.

HART is trying to figure new ways to attract people to the area, like helping them establish and sell their brand, through business owners are skeptical on whether that will actually work.

“It seems like that sometimes, we’re trying not to get depressed. We try to keep a positive outlook and try different things. We’re constantly trying diff things,” Matsuo said. “Tell me if you think of anything. We’re all brainstorming. We really try. What’s keeping us alive are the local people who will not let us down. They know that we need help and they’re coming. They’re coming.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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