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Shoppers still flock to isle malls for Black Friday deals

Local businesses hope dollars stay on Maui

Paper Garden owner Pam Zemrus (from left) helps Samantha Cano and Lisa Cano shop Friday at the popular Wailea Village store. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Even with COVID-19 and the new normal of social distancing and mask-wearing, shoppers showed up in force on Black Friday, giving a boost to many local retailers who were forced to close during the pandemic.

“I thought last year was crazy; it’s even more crazier this year,” said Shanna Kanahele, general manager of Na Koa Brand at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, which sells clothing, jewelry and accessories tailored for residents.

Kanahele said the store prepared with ample goods and also configured the retail floor so that everyone would social distance. A line formed outside the store before their 6 a.m. opening Friday to snag deals that included $10 local print canvas clutches, face masks and lanyards. The deals continue through Monday.

At times, employees had to ask customers to wait outside as the store had reached capacity. Kanahele said there weren’t any problems with customers following the rules of wearing their masks and waiting their turn to see products.

“It’s nice to see we don’t have to police that,” she said.

Customers line up to enter the Quiksilver store at The Shops at Wailea Friday. Due to pandemic social distancing rules, stores were limiting the number of people allowed inside at the same time. “We never thought we’d be doing this,” said customer Shawn Barrton as she waited with her daughter Taylor. “The sales are worth it though.” — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

She said that the mall was busy Friday since it was closed on Thanksgiving. She added that the big box stores that normally would have had large sales on Friday instead rolled them out earlier this year, so customers flocked to the malls.

Even at The Shops at Wailea Friday afternoon, customers waited outside stores like Quiksilver as capacity was limited due to social distancing.

“We never thought we’d be doing this,” said customer Shawn Barrton as she waited with her daughter Taylor. “The sales are worth it though.”

While there was plenty of business for Mainland-based stores, Kanahele said there is still much support for local businesses.

“Everyone wants to save local companies right now,” she said. “Everyone is all about supporting local.”

Store owner Pam Zemrus wraps a gift in handmade paper at the Paper Garden shop in Wailea Village on Friday. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

That movement has spurred a day-after-Black-Friday tradition known as “Small Business Saturday,” founded by American Express in 2010 as a day dedicated to supporting the local or small businesses across the country.

Maui’s Shop Small effort has linked up with the “Kama’aina First” program supported by the Maui County Office of Economic Development whose aim is to bring “our local community together” during COVID-19 by getting Maui County businesses to share their kama’aina deals and encouraging residents to patronize those businesses.

At Paper Garden at Wailea Village, owner Pam Zemrus has also seen customers wanting to shop at smaller retailers, spurred in part by the pandemic.

“Ever since the pandemic and the way things have happened, people seem to be a lot more aware about the local businesses and trying to help us stay afloat,” Zemrus said. “They keep that in mind when they are shopping.”

Zemrus said people “are happy to see we are open” and described a steady flow of customers Friday.

She didn’t have a large Black Friday sale but is offering holiday items such as Christmas cards and gifts.

Like other small businesses, Zemrus did apply and receive a grant from the county’s share of the federal CARES Act funds given to states. She declined to say the amount.

“I think it’s very helpful,” said Zemrus, though she added it was the least the government could do when small businesses like hers were ordered to close while larger corporate retailers like Target, which sells similar products, were allowed to remain open.

Paper Garden was closed from March till May following orders to shut down nonessential businesses.

Like Zemrus, Kanahele said her business also applied for financial assistance to help pay for pandemic-related items such as sanitizer stands and extra wall hangings that do not take up floor space, allowing customers more area to social distance. The company has also expanded their online sales and invested in social media advertising.

Kanahele and husband Daimus Kanahele, the owner of Na Koa Brand and artist of the store’s designs, are applying for funding through the Maui County Adaptability Fund. The program is funded by the CARES Act, proposed by the county and administered by the Maui Economic Development Board. Grants range from $5,000 to $25,000 to help eligible Maui County small businesses comply with health and social distancing guidelines, modify operations and invest in technology infrastructure to expand their virtual platforms, web-based marketing and e-commerce.

Sales for Na Koa have only been off 10 to 15 percent, thanks to a mainly local clientele, but Kanahele said that anything helps.

They now have to do additional work, which involves more cleaning of the store, and are awaiting a machine to steam and clean clothes that have been out on the retail floor.

Kanahele said their “saving grace” during the pandemic was being able to sell facemasks. The one she sells is designed to allow someone to breathe in and out without having the fabric touch their face.

Even businesses without a brick-and-mortar store are trying to adapt to the new normal.

Jennifer Huntley Habu of Malia and Company Apparel said she mainly sells her wares at craft fairs, which are nonexistent this holiday season.

She says sales are down more than 50 percent for the business, which designs local-inspired apparel with local sayings such as “Honey Girl” and “Big Braddah.”

Instead, her sales are online now. She is having a Black Friday sale until Monday.

The business was able to virtually participate in this year’s Made in Maui County Festival that usually draws crowds of thousands over two days at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Last year, when the festival was held in person, Huntley Habu said “we did really well” for their first time. But this year she and husband Jarrett expected festival sales to be slower while moving to an online platform. While sales were indeed less, she said they are glad they participated and got some new customers as well.

Local businesses such as Malia and Company Apparel who appeared at the virtual festival are still featured online at MadeInMauiCountyFestival.com.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Staff Writer Matthew Thayer contributed to this report.

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