Hawaii businesses continue to suffer amid pandemic and fear recovery is a long way off

Updated: Feb. 5, 2021 at 5:19 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Square Barrels’s revenue in 2020 plummeted 80% compared to the year before. The owners of the downtown eatery and pub sacrificed to save their company.

“Both my business partner and I went off payroll, and then we got day jobs. The most important thing for us is to make sure our employees get paid,” co-owner Thomas Ray said.

They’re not alone ― and it’s not clear when things will get better.

A new “Pulse of Business Survey” by the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and Omnitrak shows island companies face a long road to recovery that they expect will extend into April 2022.

“It shows that COVID-19 is still having significant impact. It’s a tremendous loss of revenue as well as a number of jobs have been lost,” said Chamber CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara.

Nearly half of the 300 companies surveyed laid off workers last year. The average was one to three employees per business on Oahu and five to nine for those on the neighbor islands.

On average, their revenue fell nearly 50% in 2020.

“While many businesses that were surveyed are not directly connected to the visitor industry, they still have felt the impact because of fewer visitors,” Menor-McNamara said.

Eighty percent of the businesses that participated in the survey are small businesses with 20 or fewer employees.

To give them relief, the chamber wants lawmakers to reconsider a mandated increase in the unemployment tax employers pay.

“For one company it jumped from $7,000 a year to more than $85,000 a year. For a non-profit it was more than $34,000 a year. On average, it will be a tremendous increase,” Menor-McNamara said.

“If you want us to pay that you have to give us the ability to pay it, because right now we’re not going to be able to survive if you just keep taxing us and putting more and more pressures on us,” Ray said.

Business owners also want lawmakers to rework their tiered system to give them the flexibility to safely accommodate more customers.

Ray says one immediate improvement for restaurants would be to ease the requirement that chefs and cooks wear masks while working in hot kitchens. It makes it difficult for them to breathe .

“I think that would be a huge step in the right direction. It would be more humane for them,” he said.

Added Menor-McNamara: “As cases are at a manageable rate right now and vaccinations continue to ramp up, we can re-visit the tiered system and see what modifications we can do to make it more feasible for businesses.”

Square Barrels just launched a new menu. Last week it had its best Friday in eight months, but sales were nothing like when things were normal.

Ray’s hopeful the business climate will continue to improve.

“It’s providing jobs for the community,” he said.

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