Kona Marketplace's small businesses with no customers

The Way Forward: Support Big Island Small Businesses, New and Old

Can you believe it’s coming up on half a year of pandemic/quarantine life? I know everyone on my Facebook seems to know exactly what is going on but, to be honest, I don’t know what the hell is even real anymore. Throughout the past six months, I have been checking in with family and friends around the world, and I can’t express how grateful I am to be here on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Our island community has had a pretty solid grip on COVID, thus far. But one thing I have noticed from the isolation is that I really appreciate so many elements of our local culture that I had been taking for granted before.   

As some restaurants and live music opportunities peak their head out of the shadows, it’s hard not to notice all of the small businesses that are not reopening. In fact, it looks like Main Streets across the country are transforming. With financial support trickling out from the government and social distancing laws adding new obstacles for small businesses, we are likely to see more and more independent small businesses close their doors as a looming state of uncertainty hovers over our society.

a sign at one of Kona's small businesses reads "sorry, closed (will not open again) all the best

Seth Godin said, “Left alone, capitalism will devolve into corruption, bribery and predatory pricing leading to monopoly. Left alone, capitalism will pollute rivers, damage our health and create ever greater divides. Capitalism gets us an opioid epidemic, the dark patterns of social media and doom scrolling. Because the market isn’t wise. It has no sense of time or proportion.”

While Seth believes the responsibility to figure out this dilemma falls on our leadership, I think it falls on us as the consumers. 

On micro and macro levels we are witnessing our culture shapeshift, and I believe we ultimately have control over what survives, what dies, and what is birthed anew. Every dollar, minute, and bit of attention we spend are energetic votes for what we want our culture to look like. If we wish to create a new and better world, now is the time to bring them into manifestation through our actions.

We need to realize that even though we see doors closing, new ones will be opening. Dropping prices and empty spaces create opportunities. As ever-changing parameters become the norm, creative solutions become essential and creative-minded people have been craving this chance to step up and shine. But they will need the buy-in of the community in order to thrive. 

It’s critical that we find responsible ways to support local and independent small businesses; our barbershops, restaurants, farms, artists, theaters, healers, craftsmen, bookstores, and media makers. This will shape the rebirth of our local culture. 


Alii Drive and its small businesses without customers

As someone who personally works with several small businesses, I am getting to witness some of this rebirth firsthand. I’ve noticed there’s a common theme among the businesses and organizations emerging during these times; they lead with offers of giving before expectations of receiving. They are focusing on being of service to the people who live here and not tourists. 

This May, despite being one of the worst possible times to launch a social media campaign,  RK Woods made the most of the lockdown and held a local sweepstakes that offered up assistance for other Big Island organizations, artists and businesses. The winners were provided a custom engraved hardwood sign and website build courtesy of RK Builders. As they reintroduced themselves to the community through a full rebrand and new showroom in Downtown Hilo, they extended themselves through a genuine act of service.
While maintaining safe distances, throughout the pandemic I’ve been working with The Palace Theater on a series called Live From the Empty Palace that virtually brings local musicians, aerialists and other entertainers to the quarantined viewer. The production, video and audio crew are doing it totally on a volunteer basis to keep the fire of our local arts alive.

This is the way forward. In marketing and in life, we should remember to give first and receive later. Rather than hoarding resources to ensure safety for you and yours, we need to invest in a local culture that we truly love. We need to extend ourselves to the community and let it ripple out without expectation of an immediate return. We all have offerings that will help make these hard times easier for each other and you can bet that when times get better, the people of your community will remember who showed up. 

Of course it is sad to lose a local business, but rather than focus on the negative and stir more fear, let’s celebrate the businesses we love that are persevering through difficult times. 

In East Hawai’i alone, Antics Pizza & Games, Island Photo, Tabaraka, Pahoa Animal Hospital, Kalapana Printing, Island Shark’s Chocolate, and Mana Media are just few of the new businesses working against the odds to creatively fill the voids in our local marketplace and launch during a global pandemic and economic recession. Show them some love and get some amazing pizza/falafel/art/chocolate in return. 

Despite the never-ending collision of conflicting points of view on social media, I think we have a lot more in common than we are led to believe, and it helps when we see each other face to face and when we recognize the value we have to our community and not just the opinion we have on social media. 

I know I name-dropped like crazy in this post so please feel free to do the same. Tag one (or more) of your favorite small businesses or artists that you love and want others to support.


Guest post by Drew Daniels.
Drew Daniels is a father, singer/songwriter, media maker, loudmouth and wannabe permaculturist.

Share This Post

Nani Mau Gardens Hilo Ohana Night Market

Related Articles