Coronavirus Cracks Down on Retail


On May 5, Gov. David Ige announced that shopping centers, retailers, and a variety of other businesses will have clearance to resume in-store operations on Thursday at 12:01 a.m. On the same day of his announcement, Kirk Caldwell announced that he feels uneasy about the sudden news to reopen businesses so soon. When asked if he is concerned about people rushing to forget newly enforced guidelines, he replied with one word, “yes.” Hours later on the same day, Ige clarified that malls and retail stores on Oahu and Maui will not be reopening for the time being.

During the month of March, many big retailers began to close their doors amidst the chaos that COVID-19 caused amongst our cities and our economy. Various retailers were forced to make difficult decisions involving the future employment of their staff. Many stores kept their employees around, but many more made the tough decision of letting them go. Very few were able to provide their workers with a guaranteed job along with steady pay to get them through this pandemic.

On March 14, Apple closed their doors to the public to alleviate the spread of coronavirus. Although their employees were not expected to physically appear in store, they have continued to receive pay aligned with business as usual operations.

“When my parents found out that I was going to be able to keep my job, they were so happy to find out that their daughter works for a company that truly values their employees,” said Marissa Minami, specialist at Apple. “When my dad heard about me keeping my job, he told me he was going to find a way to support Apple once this is all over.”

Lululemon was also able to provide their employees with benefits similar to that of Apple. On March 15, Chief Executive Calvin McDonald announced that they will be closing all Europe and North America store locations in order to take steps toward helping the global community combat this crisis. He added that his employees will continue to receive pay all hours in which they were scheduled and also have access to Lululemon’s Global Pay Relief Fund.

“They have thought about their employees every step of the way,” said Jen Mendez, assistant store manager at the Kalakaua location. “Before they take action they make sure to take time to think about all aspects of the business, not just the monetary side of things.”

Although Apple and Lululemon have been able to treat their employees well, other companies have been cornered to making burdensome decisions. Even after many stores declared a temporary closure, Island Sole kept their doors open. After a couple of weeks of slower business, they altered their hours, but were then forced to cut names from their roster.
“They first told me they were going to cut hours and that I was going to work less,” said Ray Aguon, previous employee at Island Sole at the Kahala Mall location. “Then they said that I wasn’t going to work at all and that I had two choices. I could either stay in Hawaii or head home to Guam, either way I had to file for unemployment. So I figured I would spend unemployment with my family at home (Guam).”

Taylor Diego was met with a more fruitful option than many of those forced to file for unemployment. Once Banana Republic closed their doors, they continued to pay their employees for an additional two weeks. After their first two weeks of closure, they decided to furlough her along with many other employees and managers at the store.

“I’m not really that mad to be honest,” said Taylor Diego, sales associate at Banana Republic. “Getting paid to stay home was great, but retail isn’t really my thing, so I’m still unsure if I’ll return once the store opens up.”

Although Lululemon and Apple employees are still receiving pay to work from home, they were encouraged to fly home to spend time close to family as they continued their work. Both companies have been practicing connection via mandatory calls and meetings discussing business operations outside of work as well as meetings to enhance personal growth.

“They implemented a lot of personal development opportunities for everyone in the company,” said Mendez. “At first they were optional to help keep us accountable but we saw some great feedback, so some of them were made mandatory, which was a smart decision.”

Employees from all types of retail stores have had to adapt and change their daily routine to adjust to the current times. Once stores open up again, employees will have to re-adjust again to help facilitate a safe and seamless experience for their guests. Both Apple and Lululemon have yet to release a date for reopening in Hawaii, however stores have continued to open around the world. Whether stores are open or closed, the future of retail will change from what we once knew before coronavirus.