Hawaii retailers seek pandemic rent relief from government

HONOLULU — While some Hawaii retail shops move online to avoid the closures that have hit many businesses in the sector since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, others are hoping for a rent relief lifeline from the government.

More than half of the state’s retailers expect to miss at least one full rent payment between now and June, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.


Among those hardest hit are the restaurant, retail, entertainment and wholesale trade sectors, along with their supply chains.

A bill in the Hawaii House would establish a commercial rent relief grant program administered by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism using federal funds.

The bill proposes grants of no more than 3% of taxable revenue or three months of full rent for commercial landowners.

A survey launched by financial consultant Ryan Tanaka indicated many Hawaii businesses struggle to pay rent despite government aid, with the situation expected to worsen as the pandemic continues.

Tanaka, president of Island Business Management, is an advocate of providing commercial rent relief to businesses through a grant program, a concept that was part of an economic recovery resolution approved last year by the Honolulu City Council.

Lisa Kim, former-co owner of Real Gastropub, a restaurant, bar and brewery in Kakaako, closed her business after realizing it needed to make $23,000 monthly in takeout just to pay the rent.

Despite the closure, Kim supports commercial grants because she perceives the need among many small businesses that eventually will owe large amounts of back rent.

Tina Yamaki, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said many businesses did not survive the holidays, which is apparent from the number of papered­-over storefronts.


Every business has a different relationship with its landlord, Yamaki said. While some may be lucky enough to get reduced rent or rent forgiveness, others have only received rent deferrals or must pay full rent.

“Whether retail or restaurant, they need help with rent relief. That’s the number one thing,” Yamaki said. “That’s the single largest expense.”

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