Docklands “hit harder than anywhere else in Australia” amid lockdowns

Docklands “hit harder than anywhere else in Australia” amid lockdowns

By Brendan Rees

Business owners in Docklands have been left on their knees after enduring yet another lockdown, leaving them two choices; close up or survive.  

It comes as Johanna Maxwell, president of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce, said Docklands had “been hit harder than anywhere else in Australia” with at least half of their member businesses having closed up.

“Right now, we aren’t even aware of who is reopening post lockdown,” she said, adding government grants had allowed some businesses to “scrape by” while others are “just prolonging the final closure”.

Mrs Maxwell said without office workers the residential population in Docklands was “nowhere near enough to support the range of businesses”.

She added the popular Docklands Dollars scheme – which was designed to attract people into Docklands and get them spending in restaurants, cafes, retail stores and hotels – had been “buzzing along very nicely” until the past two lockdowns hit.

“With travel being banned Docklands Dollars has dried to a dribble. We will of course make it flourish again, but the thing we have learnt is that momentum takes weeks or months to return.”  

City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the latest lockdown had had “a devastating impact” on businesses with many making heartbreaking decision 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 Melburnians to get vaccinated “to reduce the likelihood of further lockdowns”. 

Among those suffering was Jeff Gordon, who owns and operates the Lady Cutler showboat cruise out of Central Pier. “We had bookings right through this period … where we have we’ve tried to push them forward where we can or refund them,” he told Docklands News.

“We want to stay in the game, we want to stay in the businesses.”

He said he appreciated “every bit of assistance anybody can give us,” which included the City of Melbourne waiving an annual berthing fee but added, “We need to have a continued support package as we come back and get back on our feet again”.

“We’re a business that will survive but we’ll have major expenses in the near future. In two years’ time we have to pull the boat and do a flipping and that’s $200,000 we have to find.”

Mr Gordon said his “judgement would be that everybody’s boat business would be on the market at the moment either quietly or officially because the opportunity to make money over the last two years has been taken away”.

Lou Simonovski, who jointly runs the Swedish-inspired GoKotta KAFFE in the Batman’s Hill precinct, said a sharp fall in foot traffic meant its revenue was down 90 per cent on normal trade. 

“We used to open from 6am to 4pm every day, now we’re just closing up, one day it might be 12 o’clock, one day it might be 11am,” he said.

“There’s no need to keep paying electricity bills when no one’s coming through the doors.”

Mr Simonovski said he and his business partner Fatima Karimi had taken a pay cut and were “just chewing through our savings at the moment”.

“The thing that hurts us most is when we’re out of lockdown there is no support,” he said, adding a recent discounted parking offer from City of Melbourne that was available on weekends and after 4pm on weekdays did nothing to give local businesses a boost.

“If they really were to support their businesses they would be offering cheap parking for their full-time workers in order for them to come into the city.”

Angelo Theo and his wife Patty, who run two cafes in Docklands called Inner Rush and Focaccino, said they were “determined to stay open every day that we can” amid continued lockdowns.

“There’s nothing else I can do, we’re all in survival mode,” Mr Theo said, who was unable to apply for government support as his application for a grant in June was still being assessed.  

“I’m running around on my credit card. When we get a bit of income we pay a bit of a credit card and start again.”

Arina Kruglyakova from Melbourne Star Observation Wheel said lockdown six had had “a great impact” on their business with staff working on limited hours, but they remained “hopeful about the future” once restrictions had been lifted.

City of Melbourne councillor and Docklands resident Jamal Hakim said he felt for businesses owners who had become “emotionally exhausted”, and supporting local shops at this moment was “really, really important”. 

“It is a terrible situation, there’s no amount of financial help that will help them now they just need to trade, they just want to trade; it’s about livelihoods,” he said.

“The impact is not just financial, it’s also mental health and wellbeing and we need to continue to provide that holistic support to people.”

Cr Hakim said the council’s Business Concierge service, a one-on-one advice and support to Melbourne businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19, had expanded and was having a “huge impact”.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth and state government offered a new round of support for small- and medium-sized businesses most affected by the extension restrictions in Melbourne. 

Support 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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