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Business ‘getting better’ for some Paia merchants

Small shops try to stay afloat as visitors return

Manager Breanna Racoma smiles through her face mask Monday at San Lorenzo Bikinis Maui, a swimsuit and clothing store that has remained open for most of the pandemic. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photos

PAIA — Local shops and eateries in Paia town that were shuttered for weeks to months at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to show some promise, with a few managers staying positive with the recent boost in tourism.

Owners of Soley Aloha Boutique & Gallery said “business is not like it was, but it’s getting better” since the state launched a pre-travel testing program in mid-October.

“Some days are dead, but then other days it’ll be cranking,” Stu Soley said at the shop last week. “Things have been pretty good.”

His wife, Billie Soley, added that they have been trying to stay “super optimistic” throughout the pandemic, even when their original location at the Maui Tropical Plantation permanently closed in March. The couple reopened shop in Paia on Aug. 15, operating seven days a week and continuing to support 20 local vendors.

“We actually moved during the pandemic,” Billie Soley said. “We felt that we need to stay open to support the local community. . . . This is our family business, this is our livelihood.”

Stu and Billie Soley, owners of Soley Aloha Boutique & Gallery, pose for a photo last week in their Paia shop. The couple relocated from the Maui Tropical Plantation after the attraction closed in March.

Currently, Soley Aloha Boutique & Gallery averages about 10 customers per day and continues to see sales through its online shop. When asked if that was substantial enough to remain open, the Soleys hesitated at first but said that they were doing OK for now if Paia continues to get foot traffic.

Even on a late Monday afternoon last week, there was a steady flow of masked residents and tourists and cars making their way through the historic town to stop for food, souvenirs and beach access.

Up the street at San Lorenzo Bikinis Maui, Store Manager Breanna Racoma said that business has been “pretty good” since their blowout sale in October that drew in customers, followed by the pre-travel testing program that allowed more tourists to fly to Maui and bypass the 14-day quarantine.

Stress over finances certainly rose at one point during recent months when sales averaged only $10 per day, Racoma said. Still, the store only closed for a month at the start of the pandemic and has been open since April.

“Yeah, it was getting scary,” she said with a laugh while working solo. “It’s been pretty nice having things get back to normal, but it’s been hard too with people not listening to all the protocols because we only allow a certain amount of people in the store at one time and they all will just come in.”

The window at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice reflects the growing foot traffic in historic Paia town. The shop is closed until further notice.

San Lorenzo Bikinis Maui sees about 11 to 25 walk-ins a day, which is almost back to where the store was prior to COVID-19.

“It’s pretty good, but our sales are actually lower because I guess people are just spending less,” she said. “We have more browsers.”

Behind the bikini and clothing store sits Paia Bay Coffee Bar, which has temporarily closed its usual daytime service but is planning Holiday Pop-Up Dinner events from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday all December long, according to the shop’s social media pages. Table reservations are required.

Racoma said that customers used to walk through San Lorenzo to access the Paia Bay Coffee Bar but now have to go around and behind the store to the other entrance.

Recently, a few eateries in the small town seemed to have found their groove as tourism slowly ramps back up. Paia Fish Market, Flatbread Company, Milagros Food Company and others like Tobi’s Shave Ice North Shore have had customers lining up to get their food fix on the weekends and throughout the week.

Customers line up at Tobi’s Shave Ice North Shore in Paia recently to eat frozen treats and poke.

A few boutiques and galleries on Baldwin Avenue and Hana Highway have reduced their hours to meet the slower traffic flow, including Cafe Des Amis, which does not open until 1:30 p.m. these days.

Racoma noted how some stores in Paia haven’t been so lucky with their comeback, saying that it’s “so sad when I walk by and see past businesses closed.”

Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice is closed until further notice, though other stores in Kihei, Kahului and Hyatt Regency Maui remain open.

Additionally, the family-owned and operated Paia Gelato has been closed for maintenance, Vana Paia has not reopened since March 16 and Surf Club Tacos has also been closed during pandemic but announced last week via Instagram that it would be reopening soon with “great to-go items.”

The boost in tourism may have not been enough for Bap, a family-run business located at the end of town on Baldwin Avenue. On March 25, the restaurant announced on Facebook that though there was a lockdown in place, it would be offering takeout services.

“We are an essential business, so you can’t not have your sushi or Korean food!” the post said.

Owners of Bap could not be reached for comment, though signage indicates that the restaurant is now closed until further notice.

Bap used to be located in Makawao where Ben Kim, his wife Jeong Kim and their children served sushi for 17 years until they moved to 71 Baldwin Ave. in Paia last year.

After relocating, Bap was run by daughter Joyce Kim, a graduate of King Kekaulike High School. Her mother, father and uncle were operating the bar and kitchen.

Less than a year later, Bap closed like many other businesses, while other vendors in Paia continue to try and stay afloat.

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

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