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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 1, 2010

Hawaii businesses felt tsunami


by Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Curtis Chun, of Kaka'ako, shopped yesterday afternoon at Coco's Okazuya in Marukai Market Place at Ward Gateway Center. The store was closed part of Saturday. Watch a video and see more photos at www.HONOLULUADVERTISER.COM.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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From tour companies to the local grocery store, the Hawai'i tsunami scare represented either a boon or a bust.

At Stanley's Chicken, a barbecue stand at Ward Gateway Center, business was a complete bust. Saturday is the only day the chicken stand operates, and employees were forced to evacuate from their low-lying "inundation zone."

But at the Kahala Shell station, bags of ice were sold out long before the tsunami was expected to hit, and business was booming.

Yesterday, across O'ahu, commerce appeared to be back to normal.

"The stores seemed jammed with people today," said Jim Tollefson, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. "I have the feeling that because people couldn't go out (Saturday) they were out today."

After Friday night's 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile, drivers lined up at gas stations hours before warning sirens began to blare across the Islands, and customers poured into stores to buy up bottled water and other supplies.

Businesses that fared well were the ones that opened early, such as gas stations, grocery stores and hardware stores, Tollefson said.

A LOST DAY

While some businesses were full, untold others in inundation zones closed for the entire day or only reopened once state emergency officials gave the all-clear.

Businesses that may have trouble recovering from a day of lost revenue were ones like Stanley's Chicken that were shuttered on Saturday and tried to recoup their losses yesterday.

"We couldn't come here on Saturday," said Alan Inouye, a cook for Stanley's. "They blockaded the roads. We came out today to see if we can sell."

But regular customers, unaccustomed to seeing Stanley's open for business on a Sunday, did not materialize.

"Today was a bust," Inouye said yesterday.

Over at Coco's Okazuya at the Marukai Market Place, Jamen Chai said Saturdays are typically the busiest day at the market.

But employees who showed up on Saturday only got to work for an hour, making breakfast foods, before being sent home.

The store never reopened on Saturday, Chai said. Unlike Stanley's Chicken, Coco's Okazuya reopened yesterday and rebounded with brisk sales, Chai said.

He had no regrets for Saturday's loss of revenue.

"It was the right thing to do," Chai said. "When you're dealing with the safety of people working and living in the area, that's paramount to losing a day of business."

REDEPLOYING

Kahala Shell stepped up its self-service and redeployed all of its workers to the gas pumps in an effort to get customers moving. They set up a one-way entrance and an exit to accommodate all the drivers who lined up.

As early as 4 a.m. on Saturday, gas stations had cars lined up. Some convenience stores in Waikīkī sold out of bottled water and staple items.

"It was busy until about 11 a.m.," said Bill Green, former owner and consultant to the Kahala Shell gas station on Wai'alae Avenue. "Business started the night before."

Besides gasoline, the station also saw a run on ice and propane.

"It wasn't anything we couldn't handle," Green said. "It was a lot easier than on that earthquake Sunday when we lost our power," he said, referring to the Oct. 16, 2006, Big Island quake.

SeaBreeze, a Hawai'i Kai parasail and jet watercraft company, canceled all bookings on Saturday.

Many customers were rescheduled for yesterday, but had to be canceled again or issued refunds because of windy conditions, said Mayumi Moylan, a company employee.

"It's better than losing people," she said.

Tollefson appreciated the efforts of businesses that opened early despite the threat of a tsunami to serve their customers, who for their part did not panic , stampede or create chaos.

"I applaud the stores that opened early," he said. "That was the right thing to do. It shows me the great spirit of the people of Hawai'i."

At the busy Nohea Gallery at Ward Centers, Sam Stewart said sales were good yesterday.

The store remained closed on Saturday until 4 p.m. well past the 1:30 p.m. all-clear signal from state Civil Defense so workers could replace inventory they had moved to higher ground or had removed from the store, Stewart said.

"We lost a lot of business," Stewart said, "but it is good to know that the island has it together. We don't want to make this a regular drill, but it's good to know we can get prepared. ... Now it's important to get back to business."