Leaders launch Kōkua for Maui to support Maui business and economy post-wildfires
October 27, 2023, 1:18 PM HST
Government leaders, partners and organizations across the state have joined in a collaborative effort to launch “Kōkua for Maui – Shop & Show Aloha.” The kickoff was announced earlier this week by Hawaiʻi’s four county mayors as a way to provide essential support for Maui’s people and businesses as they continue to recover from the devastating August wildfires.
The program partners with craft fairs, farmers markets and community events across the state, creating a Maui market platform, connecting the Maui community with individuals beyond the county’s shores.
“A lot of people, their lives got disrupted, and whatever the situation was, it’s completely different,” said Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke. “We’re running into a space where as government, as individuals and organizations, we have to figure out how we uplift individuals and uplift the entire County of Maui.”
“The whole idea for Kōkua for Maui was that as we’re going into the holiday season where people should be celebrating, and people should be grateful for what we have. We need something more to uplift their spirits,” said Lt. Gov. Luke. “This is not just about Maui—It’s a statewide concern where the entire state feels that they want to do something.”
While monetary contributions and fundraisers have been helpful, the program offers the public a chance to connect with individuals and businesses and create an added economic boost.
County of Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said, “Maui’s people and businesses have demonstrated incredible resilience during these trying times, and ‘Kokua for Maui – Shop & Show Aloha’ is dedicated to bolstering their efforts while revitalizing the island’s economy.”
“This is an opportunity for us to partner between the state, county and our private sector to not just help people with income and revenues, but opportunities,” Mayor Bissen told Maui Now.
Mayor Bissen said readiness is another key aspect of the recovery. “How ready are people to come back and work on the business side of things, because everything has been so personal, and so close to home—taking care of children, taking care of themselves, every issue you can imagine—all the experiences that people are going through that we probably can’t even imagine. This is the chance to go to Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and Big Island, and so they can also show their support for us.”
While various businesses impacted by the economic loss across Maui are participating in the events, the concentration is focused on Lahaina. Lt. Gov. Luke said that’s why the effort has partnered with the Lahaina Town Action Committee.
“We wanted to make sure that they keep Lahaina top of mind. So even the design… was from K-3 Marketing. This design was created by a Lahaina business, and in fact the key designer lost her home. For artists and for individuals impacted, this is how they find internal peace… and give back,” said Lt. Gov. Luke. “We want to empower Lahaina.”
Sne Patel, President of the Lahaina Town Action Committee, said outreach with impacted businesses has just begun. He said many were restaurants and businesses in the food sector. “They’re looking to see how they can be creative in showcasing some things and their services on those outer islands,” said Patel.
Artists have also expressed enthusiasm in showcasing their art in the capacity they can.
“We’re focusing on what businesses within our membership, and even just the broader Lahaina community, can accomplish going to the outer islands right now with their products. We’re assessing all of that, and have had good feedback,” said Patel.
“It’s going to be about each individuals’ journey and where they’re at right now in seeing: ‘Do I have the capacity to do this? Am I ready for it?’ And we’re seeing that many of those individuals are at least willing to at least try, and that’s encouraging,” he said.
“We’re hoping that in the spirit of the holiday season people will think, ‘I can support a Maui business. I can buy a Christmas gift for my family and friends.’ Even companies, I’m hoping will come and think about corporate gifting,” said Lahaina Town Action Committee Treasurer Tambara Garrick.
Garrick said the transition from COVID resulted in some newer businesses along Front Street in addition to longtime retailers, and historical sites.
“It was a changing climate because we were just getting out of COVID, so we were still updating our list of folks that might have left or closed; but then we also saw a thriving entrepreneurial spirit. Front Street had a lot of new, beautiful boutiques and shops from local entrepreneurs that seized the opportunity that worked during COVID to come up with a really cool idea,” said Garrick. “And so we were still connecting the dots with the new people. Every time we’d walk down Front Street, there was a new business that we would introduce ourselves to.”
Patel emphasized the community aspect of the Kōkua for Maui events. “Regardless of if someone is a member of ours or not, we serve the community, and we serve the community’s greater needs. Front Street—we saw ourselves as the protectors of that area because it has such great cultural significance and it’s such a great economic source of vitality,” said Patel. “It’s all of Lahaina who we serve… We’re all working toward those same goals.”
“For some of the people in Lahaina to have an opportunity to have a little storefront in November in Waikīkī is really exciting,” said Garrick, noting that many businesses stepped up to cover expenses for travel, lodging and storage of goods.
The Maui Nui First website (mauinuifirst.com/kokua) offers a calendar of events for various islands and details on upcoming opportunities to participate.
Luana Mahi, Director of the County of Maui Office of Economic Development helped to populate that website during COVID and transitioned the site following the August 2023 wildfires to focus on business recovery.
“It’s giving people hope… Even those that didn’t loose a business, it will resonate that sense that we are moving forward,” she said.
This initiative will feature a series of events and activities throughout November and beyond, including the following, with more events to be announced shortly:
- 10th Annual Hawaiian Airlines Made in Maui Festival (Nov. 3-4): Presented by the Maui Chamber of Commerce and supported by the County of Maui Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, this festival celebrates locally made products, stimulating the island’s economy.
- 22nd Annual Native Hawaiian Convention (Nov. 14-17): The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) made a conscious decision to move their convention to Maui; an event that features discussions on culture, economic development, education, with a focus on Maui’s history and future.
- Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival (Nov. 18): In partnership with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, this gourmet event at Humble Market Kitchin by Roy Yamaguchi and Wailea Beach Resort will contribute to Maui’s recovery.
- Kōkua for Maui at the Hilo Farmers Market (Nov. 18): Maui small businesses will be hosted by the County of Hawaiʻi and the Hilo Farmers Market, offering a touch of Maui on Hawaiʻi Island.
- Kōkua for Maui at the Neal Blaisdell Center (Nov. 19): This collaborative event with the City and County of Honolulu and community partners features Maui-based vendors and their products.
- Kōkua for Maui in Waikīkī (Nov. 20-21): Bringing Maui’s entrepreneurs to showcase their products, art, and more; allowing visitors to support and show aloha for Maui and its businesses.
The MauiNuiFirst.com website also includes a directory of local businesses you can support.
Hawai‘i State Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke underscored the importance of supporting local businesses and families, saying, “November is typically the month for giving, and we all know someone affected by the Maui wildfires. Our islands might be separated by ocean, but we’re one island state. When one island hurts, we all feel it. We keep hearing from people, how we can help? One way to make a real difference for small businesses and local families is to keep supporting local.”
For more information and updates on “Kokua for Maui – Shop & Show Aloha,” visit MauiNuiFirst.com.