Devastated traders look at shutting doors for good amid lockdown six

Devastated traders look at shutting doors for good amid lockdown six

By Brendan Rees

Southbank businesses have been brought to their knees after enduring yet another prolonged lockdown, leaving many no choice but to either adapt or close up.  

It comes as Yarra River Business Association executive officer Tim Bracher said huge debts were being racked-up which would impact many businesses “for possibly the next decade”.

“It’s taking a great psychological toll on our business people, many of whom will be questioning whether they want to continue, even if they financially can,” Mr Bracher told Southbank News.

“Even when lockdowns are lifted, it can take weeks for any significant business to be re-generated, and by that time we could be in another lockdown.”

“The business grants system in place, while welcome, does not go anywhere near meeting the fixed costs of most businesses.”

Mr Bracher added the food and beverage industry was losing staff to other sectors that were perceived as more secure, which would “make it very hard to gear-up for the summer season, especially without international students to pull beers and serve the burgers”.

“What we need is a similar system to the NSW JobSaver, which provides businesses with a 40 per cent subsidy based on payroll, not the number of employees,” he said.

Among those reeling was Nick Di Cioccio, manager of Workshop Brothers café in Southbank, who had been forced to close his doors every time there was a stage four lockdown.

“We’ve got really great customers but unfortunately it’s not financially viable,” he said. “It’s tough but there’s not much we can do about it unfortunately.”

Mr Di Cioccio said he had taken up a plumbing apprenticeship to make ends meet but even so, this was just two days of week a work.

“I would much rather be at work than stay at home all day. We know once the horizon clears up a little bit more we’ll be back at it again,” he said of his pride-and-joy store café at Riverside Quay.

“I’m endeavouring to make a career out of it but we’ll see how that goes over the next few months.”

Jaye Chin-Dusting, who runs Mary Martin Bookshop, said while she understood safety was a priority, the prolonged lockdown had made it “increasingly tough” on her business with click-and-collect remaining its “portal” to customers.

“We are so incredibly lucky to continue to be able to support our readers, and them to us, during this time. We just want everyone to keep safe and positive during this time,” she said.

She said she and her staff were working on reduced hours with most able to receive government COVID disaster payments – which Ms Chin-Dusting was grateful for but it was “insignificant” to their outlay costs.

“This is a significant and indeed crippling loss to small businesses.”

Nick Edgar, owner of Gordon Expresso café, said business had been “steady” and counted himself lucky that they had attracted a “really good takeaway following”.

“We’re still down 50 to 60 per cent but you can’t cry about lost opportunity otherwise it’ll do your head in,” he said.

“Luckily, we’re on Coventry St and there’s a huge amount of residents as well as businesses around here.”

“The goal for us has been to not go backwards and get into any debt, anything beyond that is just a bonus.”

To help grow his business once restrictions eased, Mr Edgar said he was hoping the City of Melbourne would approve his request to pave the outdoor area of his cafe in the hope to create an “extended cosmopolitan area”.    

“Our outdoor area is probably our biggest strength in regards to making the whole place look amazing,” he said, which was currently a gravel nature strip.

City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the extended lockdown had had “a devastating impact” on businesses with many making heartbreaking decisions of whether to close their doors for good.    

“Even most resilient of small business owners are struggling to stay positive,” she said, as she reiterated calls for Melbournians to get vaccinated “to reduce the likelihood of further lockdowns”.  

Meanwhile, the federal and state governments offered a new round of support for small and medium businesses most affected by the extension restrictions in Melbourne.  

This included grants increasing from $10,000 to $14,000 for the Small Business COVID Hardship Fund as well as payments of $2800 per week through the Business Costs Assistance Program. 

Under the COVID-19 Disaster Payment, workers who have lost between eight to 20 hours work or a full day of work (over seven days) will get $450 and $750 for 20 hours or more of work lost.  

Payments of $5000, $10,000 and $20,000 per week will be available to licensed hospitality premises. 

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said while he welcomed the support package the “harsh reality is that there will be more business closures and jobs lost, no matter the financial support on offer” •

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