Two years after being rocked by Kilauea, Volcano now faces the economic impact from the coronavirus pandemic

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Moku Watson works on the grass outside Lava Rock Cafe on April 30 in Volcano. Watson usually works as a dishwasher but was asked to help with maintenance while the stay-at-home order persists.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Janet Coney stands in the Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant in Volcano on April 30. Coney has implemented different ideas to help the community while staying afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald A sign informs the public that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is closed April 30. The village of Volcano is dependent on tourists visiting the park and has been affected by the closure.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Ira Ono, owner of Volcano Garden Arts, walks out of his new, secret garden April 30 in Volcano. Ono grew the garden after the eruption of Kilauea volcano 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 volcano 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 was slow. And now, two years later, it’s suffering from the impact of the pandemic.

“This is a whole new ball game,” said Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant manager Janet Coney 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 March 25. However, there has been significantly less business, and Coney had to furlough some employees.

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

Although the park has not been closed 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,” she said. “I’m happy the state is staying safe, but it is difficult.”

Although the lodge has taken a hit during the stay-at-home order, the restaurant is continuing to meet the needs of the community.

Recently, Coney implemented a grab-and-go refrigerator with lunch and snack options available. During Easter, Kilauea Lodge matched meals with Friends Feeding Friends, a Volcano-based charity. For the 108 meals that were purchased from the lodge, 108 hot meals were donated to the organization.

“We wanted to give back to the people that have supported us,” Coney said. “Since then, we have been trying to come up with fresh options to help give the community what they need.”

Coney cut prices for all food and drinks by 15% and has provided a free children’s meal with any adult meal purchased.

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, Cafe Ono, on the weekends, but 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 Cafe 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.

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 Cafe, 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 cafe.

Moku Watson, who is normally a dishwasher, cut the grass and helped with maintenance Thursday.

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

With a gallery inside the national park and an education center in Volcano Village, Volcano Art Center has been a community hub for the area. Members from throughout the state and the world receive updates about the gallery and classes at the education center from regular, monthly emails.

Since the stay-at-home order began, emails have now become weekly as VAC implemented more virtual programs and workshops for its members.

“We didn’t want to leave our members without their regular art opportunities,” said Emily Catey Weiss, VAC’s director of development and galleries. “We have performances and classes we can put online to get art into people’s homes.”

The digital response to the stay-at-home order was new to the art center. Although the gallery closed during the eruption of Kilauea, the education center could still keep its doors open to the community.

“We became an information center to tourists and a community space to locals in 2018,” Weiss said. “Now, everyone is affected, and we have to change course to answer people’s needs virtually.”

While Lei Day festivities would normally bring master lei makers, music and hula to the art center, this year the activities are all available online.

Master lei maker and artist Jelena Clay created a four-part video series that teaches viewers how to sew a lei po‘o. The May Day Mele also recorded a video featuring musicians Joe Camacho, Tithing Chun and Doug Bush performing songs from each Hawaiian Island.

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“We just want to keep things as positive for people as we can,” Weiss said. “We will continue to amp up our services to give people activities, and hopefully some happiness, during this time.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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