The loss of Lahaina remains a wound felt across all of Maui.
Two months after destructive wildfires killed at least 97 people and razed thousands of acres of the island’s western side, Maui is fully open to visitors. Tourists are bustling along streets on the north coast, sunbathing on Kihei beaches and admiring the dazzling double rainbows stretched across Kapalua Bay. But the historic town of Lahaina, once West Maui’s prime destination, is partly shielded from view by dust screens, charred palm trees and brightly painted signs on the highway entreating people to “Let Lahaina heal” and “Respect the locals.” Checkpoints restrict residents from entering freely.
Lahaina had famous restaurants and lively bars that made it a linchpin of area tourism. But the businesses, like the town, were flattened. Without Lahaina, the path to recovery in West Maui, and islandwide, is uncertain, a handful of Maui residents in various industries recently emphasized.
“Unfortunately tourism is just such a big part of our economy. When something like this happens, the domino effect is catastrophic,” said Jasmine Kilborn, whose business, Holo Holo Maui Tours, specializes in private excursions around the island. The company website still says that travelers can “enjoy at leisure time in Lahaina Town.” Ms. Kilborn, 42, along with the company’s four other employees, are on unemployment. Their business has been decimated, she said.
State and local officials, mindful of the tragedy, have structured the West Maui reopening in phases. The first phase, opening tourist accommodations north of Lahaina from the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua to the Kahana Villa in Kahana, began on Oct. 8; when the latter two stages commence has not yet been determined.
The area has changed. In Kaanapali, nearly half of the businesses at Whalers Village, an open-air shopping complex selling the symbols of a Hawaiian vacation — vibrant Aloha shirts, beachwear, accessories shaped like plumeria flowers — are closed. Nearby, there is plenty of space to lay down a towel on Kaanapali Beach. Occupancy for hotel rooms, time-share units and rental properties in West Maui is below 30 percent and lags significantly behind that of South Maui, a region south of Kihei, according to the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association.
Frankie Urias, 46, works at Joey’s Kitchen in Napili, a restaurant that is famous for Filipino-Hawaiian cuisine. He said the West Maui area, which used to be packed “shoulder to…