Estelle Schmitt had been selling crystal-infused botanical perfume oils at the Byron Community Market for four years when the pandemic hit.
The French-born local’s love of botanical perfumes developed into a business, and a popular market stall – Estelle’s Haven – that she set up each month, early on a Sunday, at Byron’s Main Beach foreshore.
But in March, COVID-19 changed everything. The Byron Community Market, which had been held (almost) every first Sunday of the month for over 30 years, shut down.
Estelle’s business revolved around the markets, and it was a vital part of her life.
‘When you buy at the market, you buy from your neighbour,’ she says.
‘You help them support their families, their dreams, and develop their craft and innovative ideas. Markets are the birthplace of a lot of creative enterprises.’
Estelle moved her business online but it was a struggle financially.
‘Having to put the markets on hold was absolutely heartbreaking for us and devastating for our stallholders’, says Byron Markets Manager Kate Hardman.
‘Hundreds of families and households have been affected, some having to give up trading and find alternative income.’
Over the time of closure, Byron Markets lost 35 per cent of its total annual revenue.
No staff were laid off, but Ms Hardman says that without JobKeeper, they wouldn’t have survived.
‘Markets staff worked really hard to keep everything going. We came up with creative ideas to support stallholders and provided constant communication. There was a sense that we were all in this together’.
In August, after four long months, the markets reopened.
‘Being back was a joy for me,’ says Ms Schmitt. ‘I believe people were a bit confused when we first came back as to whether or not they could touch the products and how to approach the stalls’.
‘But now, everybody has adapted to the changes and it has been going great’.
The markets are not only a space for local businesses to sell their products, but also a community of stallholders.
For many people in the Northern Rivers, markets are a way of life.
Despite the financial stress, for Estelle, the four-month break has enabled her to improve her business.
She used the time to create new market signs and displays and completed online courses in website design and marketing. She also created a new perfume.
‘I was able to focus on finishing the formulation for my new fragrance. Even though sourcing the fragrant materials was complicated owing to the restrictions and delays with the post office.’
‘So the break had a silver lining, but I’m so happy to be back. I think we all are.’
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