Hawaii Chamber To Ige, Caldwell: Reconsider Bar Closure, No More Delays

Aug 2, 2020

Chamber of Commerce Hawaii yesterday called on Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to roll back the rollback on Oahu bars, which have been shut down for three weeks in the wake of COVID-19 clusters at two establishments.

"We believe that blanket shutdown of bars [is] unfairly penalizing bar owners and other businesses, and hurt those businesses that are going above and beyond to keep their employees and customers safe," said Chamber President Sherry Menor-McNamara during an online rally of members. 

"We urge the governor and the mayor to reconsider their decision and rather have stricter enforcement measures as well as heightened education efforts."

August will be a defining moment for many Hawaii businesses, Menor-McNamara said.

Hawaii was scheduled to reopen to to trans-Pacific travel on Aug. 1, with safety measures in place. That date has been pushed to Sept. 1 because of the surge in COVID-19 cases in Hawaii and on the Mainland, although recent record new daily cases may cause even those plans as well to be delayed.

Last Friday was also when an extra unemployment benefit known as $600 Plus Up ended. Further, Friday, Aug. 8, is the application deadline for the reopened Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.

Menor-McNamara said she hopes policymakers realize the impact of more delays on businesses.

Mark Perriello of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce said things will go from bad to worse going forward. He said many businesses only have one chance to reopen because of startup costs such as insurance, staffing and restocking shelves.

"I call on our governor and others in the state leadership to put together a plan, a clear plan with benchmarks and transparent datasets, so that businesses can know that we are progressing towards a date when we might reopen," he said. "Just simply saying Sept. 1 or Oct. 1 with no plan in place is not the way to go." 

He also said the state needs to put together a financial relief program to help support businesses stay afloat.

Adrian Hong, president of family-owned Island Plastic Bags based in Halawa Valley, said there's no playbook for the two current crises, economic and COVID-19. He said he kept his employees on with reduced hours and health insurance, but he said that can't go on forever.

"I'm producing way more than I'm selling to the point where I'm running out of room, in my own warehouses, to store all the stuff that I'm making, because I'm keeping my staff on hand," he said. "There has to be a reopen date for trans-Pacific travel. Tourism has to open up."

He said if most of his customers close, including restaurants, he can't stay in business and his employees will no longer have a job or health insurance. 

State Sen. Glenn Wakai, chair of the Senate economic development committee, said he agrees that government has failed businesses and government "lacked a sense of leadership."

Wakai said he agrees the state should have metrics so that businesses can have certainty when conditions will mean rollbacks. He also said five months into the pandemic, there is still no state economic recovery plan.

"My suggestion to all of you, though, is to stop griping about how the system and leadership is lacking," he said. "We're in the best time to to reelect people who are like-minded people."

All of the state representatives and some of the state senators are up for reelection. "Ask them, how are their positions on development or business revitalization?" He said if businesses want a different outcome, they need to put different people in office.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled state Sen. Glenn Wakai's first name. We regret the error.