‘A whole new ballgame’

  • Photos by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Ira Ono walks through Volcano Garden Arts in Volcano on Thursday, April 30, 2020. The art gallery has been closed since the stay-at-home order, so Ono has been focusing on his own art.

  • Photos by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A sign warns that the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is closed in Volcano on Thursday, April 30, 2020. The village of Volcano is dependent on tourists visiting the park and has been affected by the closure.

  • Photos by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Janet Coney stands in the Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant in Volcano on Thursday, April 30, 2020. Coney has implemented different ideas to help the community while staying afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Photos by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A mark for customers to stand on is in front of the Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant in Volcano on Thursday, April 30, 2020. The restaurant is offering curbside pick up, take out orders and a grab-and-go refrigerator for lunch and snack foods.

  • Photos by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Ira Ono, owner of Volcano Garden Arts, walks out of his new, secret garden in Volcano on Thursday, April 30, 2020. Ono grew the garden after the eruption of Kilauea in 2018.

Volcano residents and business owners continue fighting through the COVID-19 pandemic as restrictions persist and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remains closed.

The small, mountain town’s economy was damaged during the eruption of Kilauea in 2018. Many businesses were shut down or disrupted for months as the eruption raged on and daily earthquakes rocked the area.

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Following the eruption, Volcano’s recovery had been slow.

And now, two years later, it’s suffering from the impact of the pandemic.

“This is a whole new ball game,” Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant manager Janet Coney said in reference to the crisis. “This is global, it’s not just us going through this.”

During the eruption, Kilauea Lodge stayed open and had plenty of business from locals and some from tourists.

During the coronavirus crisis, the lodge’s restaurant has been able to offer takeout and curbside pick-up since Gov. David Ige’s stay-at-home order began in late March. However, there has been significantly less business, and Coney has had to furlough some employees.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — a major driver of the town’s economy — was closed for four months during the 2018 eruption, and was closed again March 22 due to the pandemic.

Although the park has not been closed for as long it was in 2018, Coney is worried the economic recovery will be slower after it reopens.

“After the eruption ended, the park opened back up, and people came back quickly,” Coney said. “I’m afraid the pandemic will affect how people travel from now on.”

After Ige extended his stay-at-home order as well as a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors, Coney contacted those with pending reservations at the lodge to tell them the news.

“Everyone either canceled or rescheduled their reservation,” Coney said. “I’m happy the state is staying safe, but it is difficult.”

Volcano Garden Arts is an art gallery, garden and restaurant with lodging available to guests visiting the national park. Owner Ira Ono has been offering takeout from the restaurant, Café Ono, on the weekends, but has had to close the other parts of his business.

“When the eruption started, we had no business for four months,” Ono said. “This year has been the same, but even more dramatic because there aren’t any visitors at all.”

During the eruption in 2018, locals would continue to frequent Café Ono for lunch.

“Locals are what saved us back then,” Ono said. “And visitors came back soon after the park reopened.”

While Kilauea was erupting two years ago and greatly affecting business in Volcano, some owners decided to form a nonprofit organization, Experience Volcano, to give a voice to the unique experiences of the village of Volcano.

A grant from the state helped the organization put on an event last July that showcased artists and Hawaiian culture to bring people to the village.

Ono is not sure if the event will continue or be rescheduled this year, but he is hopeful for the future of Volcano and its businesses.

“We all realized that we’re a gateway community to the park, and without the park, we’re just sitting here,” Ono said. “We made it through the eruption, so I know we can make it through this.”

Ola Tripp, owner of Lava Rock Café, has been making renovations while business remains slow.

“We’re hanging in there,” Tripp said. “Locals are still coming by, but I would always like to have more.”

To help some employees, Tripp has given them some new jobs to do while they aren’t working their regular hours at the café.

Moku Watson, who is normally a dishwasher, cuts the grass and helps with maintenance.

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“I’m going a little stir-crazy on lockdown,” Watson said. “But it seems like things are slowly coming back.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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