Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Kailua-Kona business struggling to recoup losses suffered after a three-month shutdown due to the pandemic has found a way to bounce back and give back to the community.
Kona Bay Books, Hawaii’s largest used book store, closed its doors in March because of COVID-19. Prior to the closure, the store purchased or issued credit to customers who brought in books.
Upon reopening this summer, however, it became clear that that business model could not be sustained in the current economic climate.
“We had a real struggle since we shut down from March to June,” said Barbara Sasaki, who is the mother of store owner, Sarah Gibbon, and is tending the bookstore until Gibbon moves back to the island later this year.
Gibbon, a 1999 Konawaena graduate who currently lives in Portland, Oregon, purchased the Kaiwi Street bookstore in February 2019. Gibbon’s goal, ever since she was a teenager growing up in Kona, was to provide a safe place for kids to go, have community attachment and read books to get inspired.
“In Portland, she is on the Board for Literary Arts and she’s hoping when she moves home she can bring a lot of that to Kona and really develop our literary community here,” said Sasaki.
When the pandemic hit, impacting the bookstore’s bottom line, Sasaki said her daughter came up with an idea that supported both the business and the community.
“We couldn’t afford to purchase books from the community for a while because we were really down on our revenue,” recalled Sasaki. “She said, ‘How about we encourage our customers to donate books to us and we will take those books, keep what we need and give the rest to the friends of the library and give $10 for every box of books donated to the Food Basket?’”
They set a goal of donating $10,000 by Christmas Eve. As of Oct. 1, the store will have raised close to $7,000.
“The community has been really wonderful because once they realized they weren’t just giving us their books, that we were also trying to help our community,” said Sasaki. “People also offered to give us cash, which goes 100% to The Food Basket.”
The store is also accepting nonperishable food donations that will be given to the food bank on a monthly basis. Customers can also donate store credit that they had accrued before the store closed with 50% of store credit going to The Food Basket.
Sasaki hopes Kona Bay Books can bring back store credit in November. Traditionally, that’s when their business would pick up. But the bookstore, like so many businesses in Hawaii, depends on on tourism. Sasaki estimates about 60% of their business is tourist based.
“Right now, we are only doing about 30% of our business so until we can pick it up, we needed to hold off on giving store credit at this time,” she said. “We are in survival mode right now. I’m selling mystery boxes of books on Instagram and Twitter and trying to make $50 every place we can.”
Kona Bay Books is open daily from noon to 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.konabaybooks.com.
Know a Hometown Hero that should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to [email protected] with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.