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Personal Stories: Behind the Pandemic

Business owners deal with layoffs, lost revenues, evolving situation

Hamai Appliance President Bryant Hamai discusses how his company is dealing with the challenges posed by COVID-19. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

EDITOR’S NOTE. Personal Stories Behind The Pandemic is a feature The Maui News will run periodically about how people, groups and organizations are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. This installment deals with small businesses on Maui. If you would like to share a personal story, email citydesk@mauinews.com with your story and contact information.

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As local businesses try to navigate the new world created by the coronavirus pandemic, it is clear the feelings of ohana and aloha are overwhelming factors on Maui.

Businesses that have been on the island for decades are all doing their best to serve their customers while keeping their full workforce employed.

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Marmac Ace Hardware cashier Jonathan Lawrence wipes down his counter between customers at the Alamaha Street store Wednesday. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Bryant Hamai,

president of Hamai Appliance

Hamai Appliance, which started on Maui in 1969, employs 20 people and none have been laid off or furloughed yet.

“We’re trying our best to continue to deliver and service, repair all of the essential goods for our customers’ homes,” said Hamai. “So, they can continue to be home and feel safe and have a safe place to store their food, clean their clothes, and to be able to cook if we’re going to be stuck at home all day.”

He said the company is taking more precautions and practicing social distancing. “As we’re talking with customers, we’re kind of asking some safety precaution questions ahead of time, just to make sure that everybody in the household is healthy,” he said. “Also to remind the customers that we are practicing the social distancing, so if they can just kind of respect that and give our guys the appropriate breathing space, so they can do it comfortably and safe at the same time.”

BILL MARRS Marmac, Ace owner

Hamai puts about eight to 10 people on the road each day — three to four service technicians and and four delivery/installation people. Sales staff on the floor of their Kahului store location is three to four at a time.

“Business has been a little bit slower, we definitely feel it,” Hamai said. “We did do some small reduction of hours, real small adjustments just to try to help cut costs and just to stay aware of our expenses because we definitely can tell that it’s been a little bit slower. 

“Going into April that’s where we’re really concerned because we don’t know how long this is going to drag out, so we’re just trying to be conservative with our expenses.”

Hamai said that keeping all of his staff employed is an important part of the equation.

“We’re definitely happy, and we’re definitely fortunate that we’re in a position where we can continue to operate and to keep everybody employed,” Hamai said. “That’s huge for us.”

Goodfellow Brothers CEO Chad Goodfellow opens the door of his Wailea home Wednesday afternoon. He is under quarantine after returning from Seattle. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hamai sees the local connection going a long way.

“We definitely appreciate the local support,” he said. “We’re very happy that the local community is continuing to support the local businesses. That’s what we have to do — support each other. Everybody has got to do their part, and we can get through this.”

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Bill Marrs,

owner Marmac ACE Hardware stores in Kahului and Maui Lani

“We’ve been here 49 years and been through the 9/11s and all that,” Marrs said. “The main objective is people who have issues trying to keep their homes fixed up, try to keep them running. We just happen to have the light bulbs, we happen to have the wiring, the plumbing.

“You have a problem with your cesspool, we have the things to clean them out. You have an issue with catastrophes, hurricane or virus or whatever is going on, that’s our main objective: Take care of the people’s needs so their homes will still keep running, the lights will keep going on and the toilets will keep flushing.”

Marrs was aware of local residents being stuck at home under current guidelines.

“While they’re there, maybe they can do some projects, and we can help,” Marrs said. “This the time that we look at things on sale, people need to save their money. When we have hurricanes and all that, I discount batteries, I discount flashlights. We don’t raise the price.

“Being a part of this community for 50 years is all about giving back to the community and that’s what we do.”

Marrs has been able to avoid any layoffs so far for his 48 employees.

“These people that work for me keep us alive, so if we get slow they’re still going to keep working,” he said. “We aren’t looking to do any layoffs. Well, these people that are working for me are dedicated, they’re the ones that are keeping these stores open, helping their next-door neighbors stay alive.”

The company slogan goes “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks.”

“We try to live up to that, have since 1971,” Marrs said. “We’re a family of die-hards; not too many family businesses left on Maui. We have loyal customer traffic that has been supporting us forever. We haven’t seen any drop in business at all.”

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Stephen Leis,

president and CEO of Dorvin D. Leis Co. Inc.

The Dorvin Leis company is still out there working in the community because the construction industry is considered an essential business, said Leis, the son of the company founder and namesake. 

The company has had to make changes, though, like halting interisland travel out of concern for employees — two weeks before Gov. David Ige’s quarantine order for interisland travel took effect. The specialty contracting, mechanical contracting company employs more than 500 people.

“Every day things change, they change at the job sites, they change in travel,” Leis said. “We had to stop our interisland travel before (the state) did. We want to do what is right with the employees. I think any thought process we have relative with this issue, the first thing we think of is the safety and welfare of the employees.”

Leis looks at the future and is concerned.

“There’s economic impact that is going to be far-reaching,” he said. “But we have to stay true to our values, and the things that have gotten us this far, since the company was establish in 1961. We have to stay true to those values, and it has always been the health and welfare of the employees.”

The focus now is on “how can we get them out there working,” he said.

“Contractually, we’re required to work, and I think our workers want to work, but they want to know that the environment is safe and that there’s precautions being taken. I think those are evolving, and they’re getting better every day.

“There’s a better sense of what needs to be done to keep the employees safe.”

Leis is trying daily to keep up with the information being pumped out by the associations that his company belongs to for general, mechanical and sheet-metal contractors.

“We’re following all that we can come up with and whatever the industry comes up with because there is a phenomenal, massive amount of information being produced on this thing,” Leis said. “It’s just hard to keep up with the masses of information.”

Leis said that some layoffs have been forced on him. He has bargaining positions that are filled by union workers, including plumbers and others who use tools, and nonbargaining nonunion employees, who include mostly the office staff that support the business infrastructure.

“Some of the jobs we had came to an end before this, so the timing is not good,” he said. “We had some jobs that shut down, and we have had to send some people home, as painful as that is. We pretty much kept everybody intact on the nonbargaining side; the bargaining guys, where their jobs shut down, there’s just no way to keep them employed.”

The nonbargaining part of the company, about 30 percent of the workforce, has transitioned to working at home.

“We’re keeping them employed, but . . . the reality of this situation is that we have to make some of those very difficult decisions,” Leis said. “Don’t like making them, but the reality is: ‘How long is this situation going to last? And what kind of impact is it going to have over the next eight weeks?’ ”

He estimates that he has about 75 employees who are on “temporary layoff right now.”

“The government stimulus that came out to keep people employed, the stimulus was for companies that were 500 (employees) and under — we’re 500 and above — so we’re trying to figure out how we might have a benefit . . . that would allow us to keep people employed,” Leis said.

His workers also are practicing social distancing, he said.

Leis is hopeful to build his company, which has four offices in Hawaii and one in Guam, back to what it was before the pandemic.

“It’s unknown as to how this thing is going to recover or how the economy going to recover,” Leis said. “Look at the airlines and the hotels, it seems to be every day this thing gets pushed out a little further from the optimistic viewpoint to the realistic viewpoint from the doctors and scientists who produce the information need to follow.

“Communication is a big part of this.”

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Chad Goodfellow,

CEO for Goodfellow Brothers in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Northern California

Goodfellow and his family are currently on a 14-day quarantine at home on Maui after arriving on a flight from the Mainland on Saturday.

“We just flew back to Maui to help with this challenge,” Goodfellow said.

The company that employs 1,400 people was forced into layoffs in Washington state that has been hit hard by the virus. The company was founded in Wenatchee, Wash., in 1921 and set up on Maui in 1972.

“The governor issued a decree, which classified all construction work as nonessential, so we’ve had significant layoffs in our Washington area, I’d say upwards of 200 employees,” Goodfellow said. “It’s been really difficult for a lot of folks, just going through that initial process. We’re a union organization, from our trades people to our project managers, project staff.

“For us, it’s a furlough. Our hope is that when things get back we’re going to able to keep working.”

On Maui, the news is better.

“We’ve had a few projects that have delayed, where we haven’t gotten them started where we were planning on getting folks to work. But of the jobs that we have currently ongoing on the island of Maui, we’ve been going,” Goodfellow said. “So far, so good, but I think it is something that we’re monitoring daily.”

The heavy civil construction company has been making sure of maintaining social distancing.

“We’re working outside pretty much 100 percent of the time, so our work allows for a lot of social distancing,” Goodfellow said. “We’re able to space ourselves out, our equipment operators for the most part work in the same cab of the same machine, so there isn’t a lot of interaction.”

At morning safety meetings, “We’re making sure that we spread everyone out. For lunches, making sure that everyone is being spread out.”

Goodfellow Brothers received a boost from a fellow Maui company recently.

“We’ve been fortunate to receive some disinfectant from Ocean Vodka,” Goodfellow said. “That is available, and we are (going to use) every bit. . . . It will be readily available in all of our machines, and then we also have a lot of disinfectant ourselves.

“We’re just making sure we’re wiping everything down before we start work, wiping everything down after we finish work just to clean any potential surface.”

Goodfellow said that his company has been working with furloughed employees to navigate the unemployment process “as easily as possible.” The company extended health insurance to the furloughed workers for two months, covering 100 percent of the premiums.

Goodfellow Brothers has 202 workers on Maui. Some 90 percent of office employees for the entire company are working from home, including Goodfellow himself.

He said that his crews have been first responders in emergencies, so they will be able to keep crews intact to deal with an infrastructural situation.

“People are very leery,” he said. “We are just doing everything we can to not just educate our own people, but everybody else on the job sites that we’re working to really maintain the social distancing and really follow the rules to make sure that we can flatten the curve.”

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Chastity McCorriston,

office manager for two Hawaii Family Dental sites in Kahului; John Bower, HFD president

Hawaii Family Dental offices transitioned to an “emergency-only” operation on March 17.

A day earlier, the American Dental Association and Hawaii Dental Association recommended that dentists nationwide postpone elective and nonurgent procedures for at least three weeks or until individual offices feel safe enough to resume operations.

While there are no mandatory restrictions for dentistry in the state, Bower said last week that out of the safety and concern for the staff and patients, all 12 locations — three on Maui — were cutting back operations.

That means about 50 full-time dentists and 30 full-time hygienists will have to wait in limbo as the situation is monitored. And thousands of patients statewide will have to wait for their elective procedures or appointments.

“We want them to have a sustainable business for them to come back to,” Bower said. “From a job standpoint, it’s been very difficult. It’s definitely tough on the employees who live month to month, but we will continue to reevaluate every week; they will hear from us on a daily basis.

“Dentists play a big role in the community.”

Employees, who have consented and agreed to continue to work, have the opportunity to clock 20 percent of their hours. McCorriston said that hours also are being rotated or shared “as much as possible to support staff members.”

Employees also were strongly encouraged to register for unemployment.

“We’ve been basically having to close those schedules, because we don’t have enough people who are needing to come in for emergencies at this time,” she said. “So right now, the staff have not been working, which I have been getting a lot of calls from employees worrying about hours.”

Due to the high demand in medical supplies and safety gear, like masks, gloves and sanitizers, McCorriston said that HFD wants to leave what’s left and available for the emergency health care providers.

“It was definitely really sad for me coming into this position as an office manager, just trying to make those decisions about what is necessary for my staff and their safety, that has been the biggest thing,” she said. “Also for our patients, making sure that we can safely still help the community but also being very cautious about the COVID-19 virus that’s going around, and just trying to keep things safe for everyone involved right now.”

* Robert Collias can be reached at rcollias@mauinews.com. Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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