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Cautious optimism for retail, hospitality

Mandy Nolan

It was a slow trade, but last Saturday saw customers return to cafes and restaurants and their favourite retail outlets.

The introduction of stage one of easing of COVID-19 restrictions across NSW now allows public gatherings of up to ten people, with food and drink premises opening up and more people allowed in a retail setting.

Table service has tentative resumed at some cafes and restaurants across the Byron Shire. Image: Jeff ‘Silver Service’ Dawson

This saw patrons returning to cafes across the Shire.

The Footbridge Cafe in Brunswick was busy with takeaway patronage, along with ten people seated in their alfresco street dining. Cafe manager Kaelan was optimistic about the changes, and as a business that has traded through the lockdown, taking the social distancing and sanitising rules seriously was not just to protect the public, but his staff and his business as well.

‘There are a lot of recommendations around sanitising. It’s not actually put into law; it’s put in by businesses. A lot is to protect our staff, because if one of us gets it, we have to shut the whole place down. We want to keep everyone happy and healthy!’

Dining in his establishment was Pam, a local nurse. While Pam was loving being out and having coffee with friends, she had some reservations about the community’s ability to adhere to social distancing.

‘I am very concerned that it’s going to come back,’ she said.

‘It’s beautiful being out again, and I love being with people, but I am concerned about people not social distancing. As long as people do the right thing, we will be okay.

‘But they’re not. I am watching them.’

Mullum

Other businesses like Phoenix Menswear in Mullumbimby have noted the impact that government subsidies have had on their trade.

Store owner Shayleen said, ‘This is our first week fully open. We were partially open before. It’s been surprisingly busier than we expected, probably because everyone has their JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments.’

Byron Bay

Some retailers had the option of staying open if they could abide by the guidelines during lockdown.

Byron’s Surf Dive Ski was one store that remained open the entire time.

Danny Wills is the manager for the region’s stores.

His business experienced strong sales owing to the allowed ‘exercise’ component of the lockdown.

Danny said, ‘We stayed open the entire time, just to do our best to keep everyone in a job. It was a global decision, because we are a global company and the government didn’t shut us down. It’s been good to be honest; we had some quiet times there, but I guess because we were one of the only stores open, we still had trade. We were selling a lot of wetsuits and surfboards… and a lot of shoes. In the end, it’s the smiling faces that makes the job better.’

Most businesses have had to adapt significantly to survive the downturn in trade.

Online books

One business that rose to the challenge was The Book Room in Byron Bay. When they realised how they were going to be affected, they started a free home delivery service for books bought online.

Store owner John Mitchell said, ‘We noticed a solid support from the locals. Even though we were open, about one third of our sales were online, and we delivered them to the door free of charge. We are still doing it. We found out other community minded bookstores around the country had also started doing the same thing!’

‘It’s been an emotionally stressful time. We sold a lot of children’s books for kids at home and Mothers’ Day was one of our busiest ever!

‘But we were down 50 per cent on our sales.’

While John worked to develop open lines of communication with his customers, he was disappointed that publishers didn’t afford him the same consideration.

‘You would have thought they would have rung up to find out how we were going, developed a strategy.

‘We still haven’t heard from them. There has been no communication.

‘We have been advertising in the paper every week, we have signage outside the shop, we now have a Youtube channel; we moved everything online and we home deliver. That is how we adapted to keep in business.’

For the beauty industry though, things are still challenging as no appointments will be taken until stage two.

Rochelle is the beauty therapist at Clay in Mullumbimby. She said, ‘We are allowed to open for retail and gift voucher sales, but are not able to perform treatments yet.

‘We have huge waiting lists of women waiting for an appointment… We have done an order for a huge amount of wax, so we are ready to go!

‘No doubt there will be a socially distanced queue around the block once beauticians return!’


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