Lockdown hits business recovery

Lockdown hits business recovery

By Brendan Rees

Southbank traders have been dealt a “major psychological blow” after enduring its fourth lockdown, with many saying the road to recovery had been slow and frustrating.   

Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) executive officer Tim Bracher told Southbank News that without international tourists and workers slow to return to offices, “a complete recovery is still a long way off”.

“Unfortunately, at the moment, with low rates of vaccination, few traders can plan ahead confidently and they will have the fear of more disruptions at the back of their minds,” he said.

“I would say that lockdown 4.0 struck a major psychological blow to precinct traders, who probably thought that the worst was behind them and many were starting to more optimistically move forward.”

However, Mr Bracher lauded the “sympathetic and quick-to-react” City of Melbourne for introducing “some very valuable business stimulants”, including handing $100,000 to the business precinct to help businesses recover.

“The winter rewards and special offers program for [postcode] 3006 residents is an example of how we are using the funding,” he said, adding major exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria and Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre were also helping bring people to the city. 

Evan Lavdas, who runs Melbourne River Cruises, said business had been slow to pick up, and he described the latest lockdown as a nightmare. 

He said customers dining at his cruising restaurant, the Spirit of Melbourne, “was down by half of what it used to be”, and “slowly getting back there but very slowly”, as revenue depended heavily on international tourists.    

“Now that we’ve opened … we’re down 70 per cent of our income. Every lockdown we were shut down 100 per cent,” he said.

Functions were also down by 70 per cent, he said, which had resulted in about 40 staff not working.

Mr Lavdas took aim at the state and federal governments for not providing enough certainty around his industry, saying governments were “trying make rules and regulations to cover the best way they can and in a lot of ways it’s proving to be wrong”.  

Also left reeling was Stephanie Lin of Sassy Hair and Makeup, who had 10 booking cancellations from the fourth lockdown.

“It’s been tough, it has been picking up slowly due to the fact clients for weddings have postponed or cancelled their wedding because everything is up in the air with the restrictions,” she said, which included clients not being able to travel from Sydney after the city was plunged into lockdown in June.   

“It was picking up really well before the previous lockdown. We were super-busy, working five days. Now we have to basically start again.”

In a show of community spirit through the tough times, the team at Asado, an Argentinian and Spanish restaurant in Southbank, banded together to make 1200 to 1500 meals for people in the industry who had lost their income.   

Asado executive chef Oliver Gould said instead of wasting food after being restricted to take away, they decided to cook and donate meals to casual employees or people on student visas who had been left without work.  

“We fully loaded for a busy weekend [before the lockdown announcement] so you can imagine $10,000 worth sitting around but not a good feeling for a restaurant of our size,” he said.

“We did enough to get rid of most of our stock … [but] we also utilised the time to do a meal donation initiative.”

“We hope the community of Southbank stays afloat and survives and we all come out the other side stronger.”

Natasha Smits of Natashas Skin Spa said while she was forced to close her doors she counted herself lucky that her business had grown since reopening, after finding clients were “so deeply affected by the isolation that they are really enjoying coming into the spa for massage and human contact for facials”.

The City of Melbourne and the Victorian Government’s Melbourne Money dining program has handed out $3.5 million in refunds where customers can claim a 20 per cent rebate on their bill if they spend between $50 and $500 at restaurants, cafes, and bars.  

FOMO Freebies campaign has also been a big drawcard to attract people to the city, with prizes up for grabs including “quintessential Melbourne experiences,” staycations at The Westin or Sofitel in Melbourne, as well as tickets to attractions such as the hit Broadway musical Frozen.

It comes as the City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp has vowed to become the “most vaccinated city in Australia”, to move beyond lockdowns and restrictions, and “bring back the buzz and build confidence for local businesses, residents and tourists”. 

However, Patrick Coghlan, CEO of credit reporting agency CreditorWatch, said that with no “clear path” to mass vaccination, and issues still emanating from hotel quarantine “we expect substantial increases in external administrations above the norm in the state”. 

Innes Willox, chief executive of the national employer association Ai Group, said a common sense approach was needed around future lockdowns and “some forward thinking about what living with COVID will look like when high vaccination levels are reached” •

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