Businesses rejoice as world’s longest lockdown ends
By Brendan Rees & Jack Hayes
Southbank traders are pinning their hopes on a robust rebound after finally waving goodbye to the world’s longest lockdown.
After months of being confined to their homes, visitors flocked to the city on October 22 to celebrate their newly returned freedoms, giving a much-needed cash boost to businesses.
Tom Nevett, manager of Ludlow Bar & Dining Room at Riverside Quay, said the atmosphere had been buzzing with their venue booked to capacity on Melbourne Cup Day which brought sunny weather.
“Everyone is having a great time, it’s just been really good energy,” he said.
“Hopefully with the next restrictions easing at the end of November we’ll be back to full steam ahead.”
Ollie Gould, the executive chef at Southbank restaurant Asado, said everyone had returned with a “new lease on life” and “reinvigorated everyone’s passion for the restaurant and hospitality”.
Ashwyn Prabakaran, owner of 8 Miles Café, said it had been a big relief to reopen to diners after his revenue dropped to 90 per cent of normal trade during the sixth lockdown.
“The more people sitting in that’s most important,” he said, adding he hoped things would pick up in the coming weeks as he relied on office workers, international visitors, and staff from the nearby Victoria Barracks.
He said he also had plans to create a beer garden at his Mile St café but would budget carefully as “we can’t take anything for granted”.
“We’re never going to know what happens,” he said, referring to repeated lockdowns which “has taught us to always prepare for the worst.”
Darren Ianno, owner of Mister Handsome, said he was “overwhelmed” with a record number of clients queuing outside his York St barber shop to get a trim.
“We had to go to appointments only, there were just too many people,” he said, adding he had to open his shops in South Melbourne and Prahran for 12 hours a day for the first 12 days due to demand.
“There was just no chance of fitting anyone in when they walked in, we were overwhelmed.”
But he added, “I’m rapt … It was great to get back among people again.”
At Southbank’s popular Mary Martin Bookshop, owner Jaye Chin-Dusting said the opening weekend had been “very special for all of us”.
“Welcoming customers back into our space has been both a privilege and a joy,” she said.
“Everyone has been happy, thoughtful of each other, respectful of the restrictions and, happily for us, buying books! We celebrated with champagne and chocolates and haven’t stopped smiling.”
Yarra River Business Association executive officer Tim Bracher said while he was excited the city could reopen for business, it was “really hard to tell” if shops would bounce back quickly.
“We have always said that after six lockdowns and only a trickle of inbound tourists for some time yet, it is going to be a slow but steady rebuild to pre-pandemic levels,” he said.
“Melbourne Cup weekend saw a modest amount of business, compared to pre-pandemic, but many businesses were not open, and many Melburnians had headed out of town for the long weekend.”
“In the short to medium term, a perception may linger among Melburnians that real freedom and clean air can only be found in regional Victoria, so that will be a major hurdle to overcome until probably March-April 2022.”
This month, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce launched a “Safe In Our Hands” campaign which aims to reinforce that the business community is ready to welcome back customers and clients in a COVID-safe manner.
“Victorian businesses are committed to preserving the health and safety of their valued customers, clients, workers and suppliers,” VECCI chief executive Paul Guerra said.
“We have been through a lot, but we’re ready to do what we love again. Victorians are safe in our hands.”
Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp she was proud of “what we have achieved together as a city”.
“We’ve shown resilience, we’ve shown strength, and we’ve shown courage,” she said.
“Now, the buzz is back in Melbourne and it’s time to celebrate.”
“We are soon welcoming back Fashion Week, the Australian Open, Test Cricket, arts events such as the Lume and Rising, our Christmas festival and much, much more.”
Melbourne Money is back
In what will come as welcome news to many of our Southbank favourites that have done it tough throughout the pandemic, Melbourne Money is back, but this time catering for a mid-week economy.
As part of a $44 million package unveiled by the Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne, the Midweek Melbourne Money Scheme will treat locals and visitors to claim up to $150 off their bill, with the 30 per cent saving up from the 20 per cent offered mid-year.
The rebate scheme will be live from Monday, November 15, allowing diners access to the first $5 million round of rebates at restaurants, cafes and bars where meals are served throughout Southbank.
The $44 million package will also see $10.4 million go towards bolstering businesses, including support for outdoor trading and dining •