Business

Volcano Village Businesses Stricken by Shutdown

October 15, 2013, 5:22 PM HST
* Updated October 16, 10:18 AM
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Volcano Village businesses are being battered by the federal government shutdown.

As the days pass with still no end in sight, there’s a growing sense of frustration in the laid-back village strip just off the highway entering Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Normally the park attracts around 4,500 visitors a day who spend $265,726 at nearby businesses, according to the National Park Service.

But much of that has dried up since since the national parks were closed Oct. 1 when the federal government announced the shutdown. Only a handful of national parks have reopened since then but none in Hawaii as the nation’s lawmakers continue to battle over the federal budget.

Normally two tour buses a day — seven days a week — pull into the Kilauea General Store, said manager Adele Tripp. “Now they don’t come.”

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The Tripp family’s businesses include Lava Rock Cafe and Kilauea Creations in the heart of the tiny rural village, the closest commercial center to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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“It’s pretty tough, not just us. Every person here is affected.”

The only positive is that October traffic is usually slow anyway. “This is our slowest month of the year,” Tripp said. “So it’s a good time for us” to have the shutdown, if you’re ever going to have one. “In December, we’d really feel the crunch.”

Tripp suggested that any proposals for “retro pay” for federal workers include the same for everyone affected by the shutdown. “I really feel bad for the vendors,” she said, who are are still bringing goods up the mountain but in much smaller quantities.

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Volcano Art Center Curator/Manager Shelby Smith has had to furlough eight employees due to the federal government shutdown. Photo by Hunter Bishop.

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Shelby Smith, manager and curator for the Volcano Art Center, stood in an otherwise empty gallery in the Village while discussing the shutdown with a visitor. Smith said that on the bright side, traffic has picked up some in the Village as unknowing visitors reach the national park, find it closed, then look for other things to do.

“I just sent six people out on their own self-guided nature tour,” he said.

But VAC has two galleries, the other is inside the shuttered national park and Smith had some of the works there moved to the Village gallery. VAC had to furlough six members of its sales staff as a result, he said. “We’re working with a skeleton crew, holding on.”

A sign at the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park informing visitors of its closing due to the federal government shutdown. Gallery sales have dropped significantly, he said, as up to 90% of VAC’s sales came from the park location.

“We’re facing potential problems,” Smith said. “The longer it goes on the longer the recovery will be. “It’s disappointing and frustrating.”

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A sign at the entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park informing visitors of its closing due to the federal government shutdown. Photo by Hunter Bishop.

Around the corner on Haunani Road, Ohia Cafe chef Chris Lopez said, “it’s kinda rough on everybody in the village.” At least 75% of the business is tourists, he said.

Cafe Ohia is trying to fill the tourist void by offering a 10% discount to furloughed employees at HVNP, the Volcano House, VAC and Kilauea Military Camp.

What would Lopez suggest to lawmakers? “Nothing you can write down,” he muttered. “Hopefully it’ll be over soon.”

Wisconsin residents George and Yvonne Nelson, retired professors, planned their Hawaii vacation almost six months ago and were particularly interested in seeing the Arizona Memorial and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

They spent a week on Oahu and arrived Saturday on the Big Island, and if the shutdown lasts through Friday, they’ll be shut out of both their desired destinations this trip. “If (HVNP) opens Friday morning, we may still have a chance for one,” Mr. Nelson said.

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Kilauea Lodge Manager Janet Coney reported numerous dinner and room cancellations as she urged lawmakers to “put people back to work.” Photo by Hunter Bishop.

At the iconic Kilauea Lodge, office manager Janet Coney said there have been numerous cancellations for rooms and meals since day one of the shutdown. As a result, the lodge has cut back on its staffing hours, trying to spread the down time around, she said.

Coney said Lodge employees are encouraging visitors to enjoy other areas of the island, including lava tours at Kalapana, black sands at Punaluu, museums in Hilo and other activities.

She believes government officials fail to “realize how much they’re hurting regular people.”

“They just need to do their job,” Coney said. “Put people back to work.”

Correction: The article originally posted unintentionally referred to Kilauea Lodge as “Volcano” Lodge. It has since been amended.

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