Businesses simply giving up after lockdown repeat
By Brendan Rees
Businesses owners in Docklands “are simply giving up” and closing their doors for good as the devastating impacts of lockdowns takes its toll.
Docklands Chamber of Commerce president Johanna Maxwell said 50 per cent of street shopfronts were vacant as foot traffic plummeted to no greater than 17 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
“People have moved out to the suburbs or further and aren’t coming back,” she told Docklands News, adding there had been a cultural shift to working from home “that isn’t going to change”.
After forecasting last month that Docklands “would be changed forever” because of COVID-19, Ms Maxwell said “we’ve already seen that change occurring in some very specific ways”.
“We can all see that we are going to be living with this virus and the consequences for a long time to come. People and businesses are simply giving up.”
It comes as several businesses told Docklands News they had reached breaking point after Melbourne was plunged into its fifth lockdown.
Thang Truong, who has been operating Kenny Bakery Café on Merchant St for eight years, said revenue from selling takeaway had dropped to 85 per cent of normal trade.
He said there was not enough cash flow to pay rent which he had fallen behind by two months and was sometimes up to two weeks late in paying for stock deliveries.
“We are still trading but sometimes it’s not enough to pay for wages,” he said. “You only take day-by-day; you can’t plan ahead.”
Anthony Purcell and his wife Lisa, who have been running Melbourne Tramboat Cruises for 21 years, were also left reeling after cumulative lockdowns had “totally decimated” their beloved business.
With river cruises off limits during the latest lockdown, the couple said they had pivoted their business by selling a few coffees by the Maribyrnong River “to try and make some ends meet”.
Ms Purcell said consistent restrictions meant bookings had dried up with business picking up only a little in May when they had a full week of operating cruises.
She said every time there was a lockdown they felt like they were starting again as “the phone doesn’t ring at all for about six weeks afterwards”.
“We are often booked out with corporates doing transfers and packages to the races [for the Spring Racing Carnival]. I have not had one inquiry this year, normally we would be fully booked by now,” Ms Purcell said.
Diego Ayal, who opened Charlie Bit Me Café on Collins St less than two years ago, said while his shop remained open for takeaway during the lockdown, revenue had fallen by 80 per cent.
The hardest part, he said, was having to stand down three staff but once the July lockdown ended, he was confident of offering them more hours.
Meanwhile, he was trying to stay positive but this time around he felt things had been “really tiresome” with no chance to “progress with anything”.
Renzo Mammolito of the popular Renzo’s Bar said he had tried to sell takeaway during the fifth lockdown but it was not enough to turn a decent profit.
“There’s no point, there’s not much in takeaway. I think in NewQuay, not many people are open,” he said.
Before the lockdown was announced, he said, “I was actually looking to employ extra staff because we were busy, we had a lot of bookings.”
“Hopefully we get through, and things will get better. There’s no other way, we have to keep strong.”
Teresa Lane, owner of Melbourne Holiday Apartments in Docklands, said she had suffered $10,000 worth of cancellations in one week.
“We did pick up considerably,” she said before “all of a sudden” the lockdown brought this to a shuddering halt.
“We’ve just got to make do, it’s difficult,” she said, adding their longer-stay clients were “keeping us going at the moment.”
In terms of government cash support, she said “what we’re getting is not enough for hospitality.”
“It’s not even paying the rent, it’s a small amount for a lot of pain. I think last time we got $5000 and this time we got $2000.”
“I think the government needs to give us a little more support if they’re ready to lock us down so quickly.”
Bryan Letch, who runs Docklands Personal Training Studio, said it was “just a matter of pushing through” after his studio had been “completely shut down”.
“I’m not growing my financial situation, there’s no way I’m able to do that under these conditions,” the 35-year-old father of one said.
“I do have some long-term clients, who are really loyal and they’ve stuck with me.”
He said he was currently studying a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition at LaTrobe University, which he began last year to “ride out” the pandemic and “come out the other side of it with extra strength in my services”.
Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp has urged the federal government to set national targets for the level of vaccinations after declaring “uncertainty is hurting businesses as much as the lockdowns.”
“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,” she said.
“National Cabinet must urgently agree on how many people need to be vaccinated before the lockdowns stop. This will provide certainty and confidence to business that there is an end date for the devastating lockdowns, state border closures and crippling uncertainty.”
Cr Capp said until that occurred, the federal government needed to reinstate JobKeeper so small business owners could “survive until we reach the vaccination rate that allows them to stay open.” •