After six weeks of having its doors closed to the public due to COVID-19, Big Island Running Company happily announced “We’re back!” last Friday on Instagram and Facebook.
Owners Jason and Melissa Braswell were finally given the green light after Mayor Harry Kim’s COVID-19 Emergency Rule 4 — which expanded upon Gov. Ige’s Seventh Supplemental Proclamation issued on May 4 — indicated that retail shops selling walking/running shoes, apparel and exercise equipment may reopen for business.
Being the only running specialty store on the island, Big Island Running Company (BIRC) fit the description perfectly as they offer an array of name brand running and walking shoes, athletic apparel with their popular “Run Big” logo, and various running gear and nutrition.
“We saw Gov. Ige’s proclamation last week and saw that retail was in there, so on Tuesday, we started to get everything prepped and ready to move whenever it went into effect,” Melissa Braswell said. “Then later that night, we saw that the mayors of Honolulu and Maui weren’t ready, so it was a bit confusing, as we didn’t know what was going on. But we kept moving forward and then on Wednesday, we saw Mayor Kim’s proclamation, and it specifically listed retail stores that sell athletic gear. That’s when we knew at least county-wise, we were good to go.”
Braswell said she, her husband and their three employees spent last Wednesday and Thursday restocking the store while getting all of the new protective measures in place for a reopening on Friday.
“We had actually taken most of the inventory out of the store when the closure started and had it stored in our garage for the last month and a half,” Braswell said. “We were a little worried about security because we are in a high tourist attraction area and with businesses in the area closed, we didn’t want to leave our inventory there unprotected. But it also ended up being nice because during the time that the store was closed, we did get a decent amount of calls, emails and online orders — things that I could get ready for people from home and then drop it off later. So we did a good amount of business that way.”
Like most small business owners, Braswell said she applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, a small business loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their employees on the payroll.
“We definitely applied for it and were one of the lucky ones who did get it,” Braswell said. “So we currently have all of the same employees who were with us before COVID, currently working and with their same hours.”
Aside from training their employees on new safety protective measures and social distancing protocols aligned with rules put into effect by Gov. Ige and Mayor Kim, Braswell said they are taking extra precautions to make sure both employees and customers feel safe.
“Jason built a Plexiglas shield for the register area, everyone has to wear masks, we are limiting the amount of customers in the store to two at a time, and while the doors on both sides of the shop are open, we chained off the makai entrance so that we could control the flow of people entering the store better,” she said. “We have hand sanitizers at the register, we are stocked up on disinfecting wipes, and we are now disinfecting shoes after every person tries them on. So all of these measures are to make sure there is no spread of any type of virus in the store.”
Still, reopening a business during a pandemic does come with its share of emotions.
“It was a mixture of anxiety, relief and a little bit of excitement to be opening back up,” Braswell said. “The anxiety was because we wanted to make sure that we would be opening up in safe way, and that we don’t get overwhelmed with people, which is why we are taking measures to limit the amount of people in the store. But also the anxiety of will people be ready to shop, will they want to come to the store, how is this going to work? And the relief to just be able to have the option of having our storefront open. It’s been a stressful couple of months as it has been for everyone.”
Friday was more of a soft reopening as Braswell said it wasn’t announced on social media until that morning. From Saturday, it has been a steady flow of customers coming in and out of the store, two at a time.
“Basically it’s been in-and-out transactions, there’s not much of ‘shopping’ happening in the store,” Braswell said. “We are getting a lot of calls from people who want to pay over the phone, know what they want, and want to pick up from the loading zone. Most transactions are pretty quick, very targeted, not your typical lengthy browse in the store shoppers. People come in knowing what they want. While it’s not as busy as it was before, it’s been busier than I expected.”
Braswell said that while the store has reopened, what they haven’t been able to restart are their sociable group runs, and he believes it may be some time before any running events will be back.
“Sadly, I think it will be a while before any group runs or races will be back,” she said. “Even some of the races that were rescheduled to August or September, it’s hard to see that those are going to happen. You are going to see reduced fields, probably less volunteers who don’t want to expose themselves, and I think it will be some time before we know it’s safe to have bigger gatherings.”
Aside from that, Braswell said she feels grateful for the outpour of love and support from the community.
“We’ve had lots people who bought gift cards, not because they needed to but because they wanted to support us in some way,” Braswell said. “People have been telling us how happy they are we are open and how much they missed coming to the store. And it’s nice as I have seen more of a shift to people wanting to support local businesses and also a shift in us, with us trying to offer more online options.”
And to show their appreciation, BIRC is offering a deep discount for all clearance shoes to $50 a pair for the entire month of May.
“It’s to recognize that everyone has been affected by this,” Braswell said. “To go out and spend $100 to $150 for a new pair of shoes might not be in everyone’s budget right now. But we think exercising and keeping your gear fresh is important and we wanted people to have that opportunity. They are still great quality shoes, just maybe an older model or last year’s shoes. And, people will still get an expert shoe fitting.”
Big Island Running Company is located at Coconut Grove Marketplace and open daily, Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m., and on Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m. Facial protective masks are required and the store will be limited to two customers at a time. For more information visit bigislandrunningcompany.com.