Lee Cataluna: Holding On In Waikiki - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

All along Kalakaua Avenue, many retail stores that rely on tourists have closed down, unable to endure the effects of the pandemic on Hawaii’s visitor industry.

But inside the Waikiki Outrigger, near the back of the horseshoe-shaped lobby, Maureen Kilcoyne is holding on.

Kilcoyne, 73, has been in Waikiki shops nearly all her life. She opened Banana Bay, a swimwear boutique, in 1962 and moved the store into the Waikiki Outrigger 55 years ago when the hotel first opened.

Before that, she worked at her parents’ stores in Waikiki. Her mother, Nancy Buck, owned Diamond Head Sportswear. Her father, Frederick Buck, was a buyer for McInerny who later opened Lanai Sportswear on Lewers Street in Waikiki. That business grew to 20 locations in Hawaii and California. Kilcoyne remembers being a kid, selling hats and souvenir buttons at her parents’ store during the celebration of Hawaii’s new statehood.

Kilcoyne, along with a handful of full- and part-timers, works on the sales floor of the boutique. The store is in the back of the lobby out of sight from the street, but right next to the path to the beach.

The Waikiki Outrigger was the only beachfront hotel along that Kalakaua stretch that never closed during the pandemic. It remained open for military and first responders. In June, the hotel announced a discounted “staycation” rate for Hawaii residents and touted a program of safe cleaning practices and social distancing.

“Outrigger reached out to locals and gave a really good deal,” Kilcoyne said. “The 4th of July was so fun because the whole beach was local families all spread out. I did decent business with local customers, and it was nice to see families having so much fun on the beach.”

2131 Kalakaua Avenue closed retail space due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Some shops along Kalakaua Avenue in the heart of Waikiki have closed. Boutiques in the hotels are faring better. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The store shut down from March through June as per the governor’s orders on nonessential businesses. Kilcoyne reopened during that 4th of July weekend after the Outrigger announced the special kamaaina deals. For several months afterward, Kilcoyne had the store open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Now, it’s open daily, but she cut back the hours of operation, going from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Around the hotel, other stores are starting to reopen. Kilcoyne watches their progress, worries for them, cheers them on. Some, like Banana Bay, are locally owned businesses that have been there for decades, like Pai’s Deli, which has just reopened.

The Pearl Factory, directly in front of her store, opened last week for the first time since March. Bikini Bird, a locally owned boutique with a flagship store in Kailua, had just opened a shop in the hotel when the shutdown order happened.

Kilcoyne was happy for them when they reopened last week. Every open business adds to a kind of ecosystem in the lobby of the hotel that never closed.

“We’ve always been like this, working together. We’re not this mass corporate thing. We’re people who are connected,” said Christine Budroe-Laigo, who now works at Banana Bay after a career in retail in Waikiki.

Kilcoyne has managed to stay in business, Budroe-Laigo said, because she’s constantly readjusting. “Maureen has done everything she can to be here. She’s really putting forth the energy to do this,” she said.

At first, Kilcoyne applied for and received a PPP loan to help cover payroll, but then couldn’t open when the shutdown order happened.

She also received a grant of $10,000 from the City and County Small Business Relief program, which she says really helped.

“That was great. It was for money we had already spent for payroll, rent, utilities. I just had to send in receipts. There were no strings attached.” 

Kilcoyne was working in the store one day when she saw Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell walking through the hotel lobby on his way to a meeting. She went out and introduced herself, thanked him and told him how the grant had helped her.

Kilcoyne says her inventory is the lowest it’s ever been. Everything in the store is on sale for 30% off, except for some women’s swimwear, which is 50% off. She’s hesitant to reorder merchandise, not knowing what the next few months will hold for her corner of the lobby or for Waikiki’s tourism numbers in general.

“It’s still really hard,” she said. “I have limited hours, limited buying abilities. I have to think about what can I bring in that these few people will buy.”

A customer walks in the store and asks about the dress Kilcoyne is wearing. Budroe-Laigo helps the customer find something similar on the clothing rack.

After the customer tries it on and decides against it, the dress has to be taken off the sales floor and steam cleaned before it is returned to the rack. All this is done cheerfully and efficiently. It’s just one of many adjustments that must be made.

“I’m looking forward to staying open, staying in business,” Kilcoyne said. “It’s a matter of how.”

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

Sometimes it seems that individuals who are not impacted in the pocketbook by COVID-19 do not grasp the hardships that working people face, and I'm not sure that Hawaii media have done a good job of communicating this.  While this article is just one short piece, it illustrates what many of us have faced this year, and how critical government help has been.  More stories like this will help heal the disconnect.  

Kukiniloa · 2 years ago

30% off?  hmm...  I see some dresses I like there... :-)

IngridPeterson · 2 years ago

Keep doing what you’re doing Maureen! A smile on your face goes a long way. So happy to read the Outrigger has been open all along. When your time to retire comes, you’ll both be able to enjoy the Grandkids.

In_D_manure · 2 years ago

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