HANALEI — The whirlwind that has overcome the world following the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic has left people across the country reeling from the aftermath.
And Kaua‘i is no different.
Earlier this month, Kuhio Highway near Hanalei reopened to two-lane traffic, which was a step in a positive direction for many local businesses beyond the Hanalei bridge.
Road construction continues, with crews seeking to repair the landslide-damaged highway, but North Shore community members have remained resilient despite the numerous obstacles presented.
“Overall, we are making more revenue than before,” Mike Ching says of the businesses operating out of Ching Young Village Shopping Center in Hanalei. “I am cautiously optimistic because of the increase in the volume of business. The road opening has been a big help. We’re happy about it.”
Ching said other issues have come into play.
“A problem that a lot of people are facing is that it’s hard to find employees, making it difficult to be open seven days a week,” Ching said.
Before, both lanes were only made accessible to pass through three times a day, affecting towns from Hanalei to Ha‘ena. This created an added layer of difficulty to attaining financial recovery. The combination of the lack of manpower and increase in demand due to the higher number of visitors on island following the easing of restrictions has made it difficult for businesses to keep up.
Chloe Sorey of Wake Up Delicious is grateful because business has been better at her location in a pint-sized shopping center on the corner of Aku Road and Kuhio Highway.
Sorey shares the common sentiment that it is hard to keep the “machine,” as she calls it, running with a small staff. “I’m lucky to have an amazing and hardworking staff. I don’t know what I would do without them.”
Despite all the obstacles following the initial lockdown and reopening of business, Wake Up Delicious has risen above.
“Basically, we can pay our overhead. I’m grateful for the business that we do have,” Sorey said.
But not everyone is so fortunate.
Dana Petcu, owner of the Hanalei Cafe, has been working hard throughout this unprecedented time, and the cost of keeping the cafe running has been grueling.
Petcu finally decided to shutter the doors of the Hanalei Cafe and hand over the keys to a new owner, coming to the decision that it’s time to move on as she continues to recover from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic upon her business and her life.
“With the stress of everyday life, it’s tough. Our business insurance is a huge expense,” Petcu siad.
Additionally, the pandemic was not listed as being a legitimate case that could be claimed under her insurance, so she could not be reimbursed for funds lost resulting from the impacts of COVID-19. Despite the impacts resulting from the pandemic, such as loss of revenue in April 2020 due to the lockdown of businesses and stay-at-home orders, Petcu still did not qualify for COVID-related expenses.
Petcu had struggled to keep the Hanalei Cafe running.
“When you expect a certain amount of sales it’s insane. I lost so much food and there was so much waste,” she said. The cafe owner added that it did not help that she also lost revenue due to the need to switch to take out, not to mention lowering the number of people allowed to enter her business.
To pay the bills, Petcu has adapted to juggling multiple sources of income, including becoming a landlord.
In Ha‘ena, Debbi Woodford said the reopening of the highway at the Hanalei bridge has literally taken a load off when working the register and making coffee.
“Things have been a lot easier since the road reopened. Now there is not too much foot traffic and customers come and go from time to time, which is nice,” Woodford said.
The Kaua‘i Police Department, Woodford said, has done a “really good job” with parking enforcement.
“It alleviates the parking issues here because people are finally getting ticketed,” she said.
Not only is it more convenient, but it is also safer, she said. This has been a silver lining to cherish, Woodford said.
Monique Rowan is a lifelong North Shore resident who lives in Wainiha and writes periodically for The Garden Island.