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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

Movers continue business as usual

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

Michelle Moore packed up all of her belongings at Schofield Barracks and watched the movers take them away this week to be shipped off to her new hometown in Arizona.

Damien Kahihikolo of American Movers loads a container in Kapolei. Moving companies say they are still taking shipments as usual.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

But with all West Coast ports closed, she's not sure how long it will be before she sees her furniture and household goods again.

"I've got two kids and we can only take so much on the plane," Moore said.

For families moving to the Mainland or arriving here to make Hawai'i their new home, the ongoing port closures are creating concerns beyond just determining whether there's enough Spam, toilet paper and rice on hand. For them, the shutdowns mean they are essentially stranded — with no certainty about how long it will take to ship furniture, automobiles and household goods, to start off a new home, a new job or a new military post.

Moving companies this week said they are optimistic that a settlement between the shipping lines and dockworkers will prevent any major problems, but there is little they can tell customers to reassure them. Most moving companies are continuing to pick up household goods and drop them off at the Port of Honolulu for eventual shipment whenever the Pacific ports reopen.

The companies say they are continuing to take new business, have enough storage space in their own warehouses for at least a few weeks, and offer consumers a limited storage period free of charge.

But there's little comfort for Moore, who worries that real problems could start when she and her family arrive in Los Angeles on Oct. 11 to pick up their car and drive to Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Her husband, an Army sergeant, will be stationed there.

Moore dropped off the family car Sept. 23 to be shipped to the West Coast, and was told that it should be there in time for her arrival this month. But that was before the port lockouts.

"I called Los Angeles and they said they already have a backload of cars to be unloaded," Moore said. "It's not a very good situation."

If the car hasn't arrived by the time the Moores and their two young children arrive in Los Angeles, they may have to rent a car to make the drive to Arizona.

"My husband is going to be so ticked," Moore said. At some point, they would need to make the 10-hour drive back to Los Angeles to pick up their car when it does arrive. "That's taking money out of my pocket, and I don't think the Army will reimburse us for that."

Tom Hedeen, a sales representative for Sunvan Hawaii Moving & Storage Inc., said that if the dock dispute is resolved quickly, there should be only a slight slowdown in business. But if ports remain closed for another week, the company, which moves 25 to 30 customers a week, may need to start notifying customers that their household goods will be delayed.

But there aren't many options available for people who have to move now between Hawai'i and the Mainland.

"I hate to say this, but they're just going to have to wait," said Lance Terayama, president of Island Movers Inc., which handles an average of five customers moving to the Mainland a day.

Terayama recommends that those planning to move soon keep select items they really need out of their shipment and pack it with luggage to be sent by air.

"There isn't too much we can do," said Medford Dyer, president of moving company M. Dyer & Sons Inc. "I haven't gotten that excited because I think it's a short-term thing. If they were out more than 30 days, we'd start to be in trouble."

M. Dyer continues to accept requests for estimates and has continued to pick up and drop off shipments. M. Dyer typically sends from 10 to 30 containers each week, with belongings of one to four families per container.

Chris Redlew, a sales manager for trucking company Pacific Transfer LLC, said he is also operating as if the dock shutdown will end soon, and has been telling customers to continue to send shipments.

"There is a lot of concern from the customers. They've been asking us for two months now, 'What's going to happen to my stuff if it goes into port?' " Redlew said. But, he added, "It doesn't do them any good to leave it here."

Despite the shutdown, CSX Lines continues to accept bookings for shipments, and Matson Navigation Co. is also continuing to receive containers.

But, said Matson spokesman Jeff Hull, "If this continues we will likely have to stop receiving."

If that happens, Dyer said, "We would face just holding your shipment until the thing gets settled."

Typically, the company offers a month of storage at no cost, and has a 64,000 square-foot storage facility that's about two-thirds full now.

One positive note is that the dock shutdown comes near the end of the summer's peak moving season, Terayama said, so moving-company warehouses likely have some extra room to store goods.

Terayama said Island Movers would accommodate customers whose shipments are delayed.

Some moving companies are more worried that without any new ships coming in, there will be far less work for them.

Inbound cargo is close to a standstill, said Tate Matthews, a moving consultant with M. Dyer, one of the larger moving companies in Honolulu with about 65 employees.

"It is possible that some of our guys may not be working," he said.

M. Dyer is still getting calls to do estimates, and business hasn't slowed yet.

But, said Matthews, "I think people are starting to think in the back of their minds, 'Even if I want to move, I can't, necessarily.' "

Reach Kelly Yamanouchi at 535-2470, or at kyamanouchi@honoluluadvertiser.com.