Small Business Owners Share Pandemic Experience

Young's Noodle Factory, owned by senior Davin Kwan's family, is still able to supply their noodles to local restaurants even though business has slowed down. Photograph by Davin Kwan ('21).

Since the beginning of March, local businesses have faced an uncertain future, especially with Hawaii’s multiple shutdowns and reopenings.

In addition, the 14-day quarantine requirement had all but stopped the stream of tourists coming to Hawaii, severely affecting businesses that depend on Hawaii’s year-round visitor traffic. According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on September 20, Honolulu had the third-highest number of businesses permanently closing compared to other US cities as a result of the pandemic. Even older and well-established businesses, like Dillingham Saimin, which had been operating for 64 years, have been forced to shut down due to financial struggles. In a Hawaii News Now article, real estate brokerage firm Colliers International forecasted that vacant retail space in Hawaii will grow close to 400,000 square feet, which is about the size of the Kahala Mall. Across the country, the federal government has loaned at least $50 million to help businesses pay for their operating expenses but the future for many local businesses continues to look bleak. The Eagle Eye spoke to a few families at HBA who own small businesses to find out how they are dealing with the current economic challenges.

With state and city-wide orders constantly changing since the first shut-down in March, businesses have had to work hard at staying flexible in order to keep their operations running. Debbie Glenn, parent of junior Grace Glenn and owner of Koolau Family Chiropractic, said that she has had to adjust her business hours multiple times this year. She is also not able to see as many patients in a work day as she used to. “Due to restrictions in capacity [and the] increase in cleaning [requirements] after each patient, [appointments] takes twice as long,” she explained.

Because of social distancing requirements, chiropractor Debbie Glenn must limit the number of people that come into her office. Photograph courtesy of Debbie Glenn.

As for restaurants, the state has allowed them to stay open for take-out and indoor dining is currently allowed with social distancing and group size restrictions. Like many other eateries, Kim Chee III, owned by freshman Keenan Kim’s grandparents, has adapted its business to the times. Kim said, “People just have to phone in an order, and they can come pick it up or it [have it] delivered.” So far, the restaurant has been able to stay afloat with take-out and delivery orders.

Susan Nakagawa, mother of senior Nicole and freshman Noelle Nakagawa and co-owner of Palace Saimin, said that the second shutdown slowed down their business even more than the first one. However, their restaurant was featured on KHON2 in September and that gave them a boost, bringing back many customers. “We were so grateful for all the support we received from the community and the people of Hawaii!” she said. 

On the weekends, senior Nicole Nakagawa (left) and her grandmother, Setsuko Nakagawa, (right) help out at Palace Saimin, their family business. Photograph courtesy of Nicole Nakagawa (’21).

Despite not having to tap into the state’s loan assistance program during the pandemic, Glenn is thankful for the option as it gives her peace of mind. “[Government loans are] very helpful to cover any shortfalls to meet my business obligations”, she said. For senior Cheyanne Yim, whose parents own Jun Bo Chinese Restaurant, her family has been able to pay for necessities thanks to unemployment insurance. “My mom is working somewhere else so she’s earning some extra income and really anything helps even if it’s only two hours,” Yim said. Since her parents primarily speak Chinese, the responsibility to apply for unemployment insurance fell on her and her sister. Despite the challenges, Yim is grateful that she can assist her parents in keeping their business alive and sees the current situation as a learning experience. 

On October 15, Hawaii began its Pre-Travel Testing program, which allows entering travelers to bypass the 14-day quarantine if they meet a negative COVID-19 test requirement. Since the state’s economy relies on heavily tourist traffic, business owners are generally hopeful that things will improve soon. Even though Glenn’s customers are local residents, she believes any boost to the economy will help her in the long term. “If the community is struggling, it affects all of us,” she said.

On the other hand, Gordan Kwan, parent of senior Davin Kwan and the owner of Young’s Noodle Factory, feels cautious about the return of out-of-state-visitors. He said, “If tourists come back, there might be more customers. However, they might also bring the coronavirus.” Kim voiced similar concerns. With more customers, his grandparents can earn more money, but he worries about the potential increase in health risks from having more customers. “Since my grandma and grandpa are old they are more vulnerable to it so that kind of gets me scared,” he said.

Jun Bo Chinese Restaurant is located in an alley off Queen St. Photograph by Cheyanne Yim (’21).

Although the slowdown in business has made for a challenging season, Yim notes that it has brought about unexpected benefits. “Because [my father] is a really hard worker, he didn’t realize how much [the long hours] were affecting him physically,” she said. She is grateful that he has been forced to focus on taking care of himself and resting more. Yim is also thankful for the resources they’ve found in the community and hopes other small businesses know that there is help to be found. “There are people and different organizations who are willing to help and understand what’s happening,” Yim said. Kwan believes in staying optimistic. “These are dark times,” he said, “but every dark sky will eventually change to a sunny day.”

Here are the businesses mentioned in this article:

Jun Bo Chinese Restaurant (Take-out only)
(808) 521-7488
126 Queen St
Hours: Weekdays from 10am to 2pm

Koolau Family Chiropractic
354A Uluniu St #201
(808) 262-2099
Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am to 5:30pm; Sundays from 10:30am to 7:30pm, Saturdays from 9am to 12pm

Kim Chee III (Take-out and delivery)
2239 S King St
(808) 944-3434
Hours: Tuesdays to Saturday from 10:30am to 8:30pm; Closed Mondays

Palace Saimin (Take-out only)
1256 N King St
(808) 841-9983
Hours: Tuesdays – Saturdays from 10am to 8pm; Closed on Sundays and Mondays

Young’s Noodle Factory (Take-out only)
1635 Liliha St
(808) 533-6478
Hours: Mondays to Saturdays from 6am to 12pm

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