“Heartbreak” for businesses after enduring fifth lockdown

“Heartbreak” for businesses after enduring fifth lockdown

By Brendan Rees

Businesses in Southbank are counting the cost of the fifth lockdown as the recovery “appears to be the worst of them all”, according to the Yarra River Business Association.

“Those who have managed to stay afloat to date may now find it a real struggle to keep heads above the waterline this time, unless there is a major consideration by landlords by way of rent relief and not just deferment,” the association’s executive officer Tim Bracher told Southbank News.

“It is heartbreaking for business owners to often see their life’s work going down the drain through no fault of their own, and this must be having a huge psychological impact on many of them.”

Mr Bracher, who praised the City of Melbourne for providing “valuable business stimulants” in past lockdowns, said “a combined effort at the state and federal level can at least keep staff attached to their workplaces and cover some of the very basic costs”.

“Every lockdown further diminishes trader resilience and knocks consumer confidence,” he said.

“The only recovery tool that the public seems to be responding well to is direct financial incentive, and so YRBA will be introducing a limited cash-back scheme to try and boost the August, September and October period.”

Among those to reach breaking point was Ashwyn Prabakaran, owner of 8 Miles Café, who said while his shop had remained open for takeaway during the lockdown, daily revenue had dropped to 90 per cent of normal trade.

He told Southbank News he was “going into so much debt” with barely enough cash flow to pay for rent and utilities.

“There’s no rent assistance so we’re about two months back on rent,” he said but added, fortunately his landlord was “pretty understanding”.

“I keep my staff on but I have to keep their hours down. Luckily, most of them are young; half of them stay with their families.”

Mr Prabakaran said every time he reopened his shop after lockdowns, he felt he was starting from scratch.

“I don’t know if there will come a point where I can’t take these losses anymore, I might have to consider shutting down or selling the business.”

Ollie Gould, the executive chef at Southbank restaurant Asado, said daily revenue – from selling takeaways – was down around 90 per cent on normal trade.

“We ran our takeaway menu and did the best we could there,” he said, adding they “just battened down the hatches and tried to sell all our old stock again and I suppose break even and minimise our losses.”

Amid the reopening, City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp took to social media encouraging “everyone to please shop local and support a small business doing it tough.”

Last month she also urged the federal government to set national targets for the level of vaccinations so the country can “open up and live with the virus”.

“Uncertainty is hurting businesses as much as the lockdowns,” Ms Capp said. “After more than a year of lockdowns, there is still no ‘freedom day’ on our horizon which means there is no hope for our small business owners and workers.” 

The state government announced a $400 million package, jointly funded by the federal government to support businesses to recover from the recent lockdown.

It included an $85 million small business hardship fund with grants of up to $5000 available for businesses that have experienced a 70 per cent or more drop in revenue.

A commercial tenancy relief scheme as well as a landlord hardship fund of $80 million will also be available for small to medium size businesses •

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