Revive Hawaii: Shop small, shop local

The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, March 7, 2021 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

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By: Brooke Carias (Punahou School ℅ 2022) & Kira Stoetzer (St. Andrew’s Priory ℅ 2022)

When thinking about what makes our island home such a special place, local businesses and their ties to the community are one of the first things that come to mind. The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way local small businesses operate by necessitating constant adaptation to restrictions, increasing safety measures, paying additional taxes, and making tough decisions when it comes to employees. In addition, the pandemic has made connecting with patrons increasingly difficult, especially for those who are constrained technologically. Now more than ever our small businesses, the core of our island community and economy, need to be supported to heal our island home and preserve local culture for future generations to come.

With the loss of tourism, new COVID-19 restrictions, and an overall drop in the economy, small businesses are struggling to stay afloat. By July of 2020, nearly 900 small businesses had closed, either temporarily or permanently. One of the more successful small business relief policies issued by the government was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), established in 2020 to aid businesses in maintaining their payroll. With the second wave of the PPP now open, small businesses have another chance to apply for relief. The government, in many ways, is what people are looking towards for a way out of the pandemic and into a stable economy.

On the flip side of government action, the state was about to automatically triple the unemployment tax to compensate for the increased unemployment rate, which would have gone into effect no later than March 15, 2021 and may have siphoned funds that could have been used to rehire employees. At the high point, Hawaiʻi's unemployment rate rose to 9.3% – the highest rate in the country. Fortunately, that dramatic tax increase for businesses has been cut by about half, on average, thanks to a law enacted just last week. That bit of relief over the next two years, though, doesn’t solve the problem of getting people back into work. In responding to the question of what government should do to support small business during this time, Colleen McAluney, Director of the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business and Leadership stated: “I think it is important for our local government to weigh the current effects of increased unemployment insurance taxes and minimum wage on our small business community. Incremental steps must be considered before overburdening already devastated local small businesses.” Looking towards the future, the community can help lessen the burden by increasing revenue for small businesses.

As the foundation of our
island culture and childhood
nostalgia, local businesses
have supported us for so long;
now it’s our turn to support them.

In January, our student project team was fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with Shop Small Hawaiʻi, a non-profit organization that supports local small businesses. Through our collaborative work, particularly in assisting with social media marketing, we’ve learned that small business owners find silver linings in their loyal customers during these unprecedented times. Amidst all the chaos, small businesses have been able to grow and adapt their businesses to accommodate consumers along with strengthening their teams.

As the foundation of our island culture and childhood nostalgia, local businesses have supported us for so long; now it’s our turn to support them. The phrase “shop local” may seem cliche, but its overuse is proof of its importance. The government may be the designated leaders of our community, but everyone can do their part to help revive and heal Hawaiʻi by supporting local businesses who are trying to stay afloat. From the local sandwich and smoothie shop to the restaurant you frequented with your grandparents, small businesses have always been there to celebrate the little moments in life. Here’s your final call to get out, support local, and shop small, before it’s too late!

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