DAVID LICHTENSTEIN, THE MOLOKAI TIMES
Maria Watanabe, owner of the Import Gift Hop & Mini Mart, said her business revenues are down by about 40 percent since Molokai Ranch closed in early April. Watanabe, who has been in business for 29 years, said she's had to lay off two of her five employees after losing one shop.
Molokai’s visitors ‘picked up and left’
Ranch closure begins to take toll on Molokai businesses
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Businesses on the Friendly Isle are seeing fewer customers following the shutdown of Molokai Ranch operations in early April.
Business owners think they haven't hit bottom yet and expect more economic problems after the 120 ranch employees get their last paycheck on May 22.
Island Air passenger volume was down more than 3 percent and the ferry between Lahaina and Kaunakakai reported a drop of 25 percent in April.
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Molokai Princess ferry owner David Jung said he's experienced a 25 percent drop in ridership in recent weeks, following the shutdown of Molokai Ranch's cattle and resort operation, including the island's only 18-hole golf course.
"I think the rest of the state needs to take a real hard look on how to get these people back to work because the state is going to end up paying for it," said Jung, president of Sealink of Hawaii, which makes the Lahaina to Kaunakakai run.
"The opportunities on Molokai are just gone."
More than a month after the ranch's shutdown, some businesses are reporting a drop in revenues on Molokai with the expectation that they haven't yet seen the bottom.
The 120 ranch employees given a 60-day salary notice are continuing to draw pay until May 22 and won't be calculated into the jobless rate until they officially file an application for unemployment later this month.
But some of the 7,000 residents on Molokai have already experienced a drop in business, including Island Air, which experienced a 3.7 percent decrease in passenger volume in April compared to the same month last year.
Maria Watanabe, whose gift-shop business have been in operation for 29 years, said she's had to lay off two of her five employees after losing one shop because of the ranch shutdown in Maunaloa and slower tourist traffic into her shops at Kaluakoi and Kaunakakai.
Watanabe said she has residents who sell gifts to her who aren't receiving as much income.
"Everyone's affected by the closing of Molokai Ranch. If we don't have tourists here, we're dead," she said.
Darrel Borling, the resident manager of Ke Nani Kai condominium resort in Kaluakoi, said some visitors have cut short their visit to Molokai because there wasn't a golf course.
"They just picked up and left," Borling said.
Borling said he'll know the real impact of the ranch's shutdown in the peak season during the winter but he feels that the closure of the golf course will influence a lot of visitors.
"Now that the golf course is not here, they're not going to want to come here," he said.
Businesses say to make matters worse, they're entering the slow part of the tourist season from May through September, when the weather is warmer in North America and visitors return home.
Molokai, including the 60,000-acre ranch, has struggled economically to find a balance in business activity, since major layoffs occurred in the pineapple industry in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Kaluakoi Resort in west Molokai was built in partnership with the ranch to develop tourism as an alternative industry.
But tourist-related businesses on Molokai have struggled to find a place in the competitive Hawaii market.
The number of hotel rooms has decreased on Molokai since the 1980s.
The ranch sold the 40-room Pau Hana Inn to a church group in 2002, and Kukui (Molokai) Inc. closed the 152-room Kaluakoi Hotel in 2001.
The shutdown of the ranch closed the 22-room lodge at Maunaloa and 40 tent bungalows at Kaupoa.
Businesses say the county's clampdown on illegal visitor rentals is also affecting their ability to accommodate tourists.
Some specialty businesses seem to be doing well, despite the ranch closure.
Molokai Mule Ride manager Roy Horner said his tour business to Kalaupapa has increased as a result of the rising popularity of the late Father Damien, who is close to being named a saint.
Revenues from Coffees of Hawaii on Molokai has also increased due to a growing demand for its product, with Internet sales tripling in the last year, its operations manager Maria Holmes said.
Holmes said the company, which offers taste tours at its Kualapuu plantation, has seen its revenues on Molokai increase by more than 30 percent in a single year.
Watanabe, whose stores at Kaluakoi and Kaunakakai relies on tourist foot traffic, said she's been through enough hardships to know her business will survive.
But she said Molokai is turning into a community of retirees because it lacks employment opportunities for young people.
"When our children go to college and come back, there's no jobs for them," she said.