Businesses count their losses after lockdown

Brendan Rees

Businesses in Melbourne’s inner city are still reeling nearly a month after the state’s fourth COVID-19 lockdown ended, with industry leaders warning the ongoing cost of restrictions will be “enormous”.

Many traders in Carlton, East Melbourne, and Parkville told Inner City News that the state’s harsh lockdown from May 27 to June 10 had taken a big toll on their livelihoods and were struggling to recoup their losses.   

Some reported cash flow was still very tight, and without the federal government’s JobKeeper wages scheme they had resorted to paying staff using their personal money.

One Carlton restaurant owner said he was disappointed he had not received “one cent of help” from the state government’s circuit-breaker business support package. 

However, most traders praised the City of Melbourne’s Melbourne Money dining scheme which had been a “major boost” to attracting new customers who can claim a 20 per cent rebate on their bill if they spend between $50 and $500 at restaurants, cafes, and bars. 

Italian restaurant owner Fab Sussi, who runs Tiamo on Lygon St, Carlton, said business was “slowly creeping back up” after taking a “major hit”.

“It’s just the unknown – that’s the hardest thing for businesses,” he said. 

“It’s very stressful; one day you could be free, one day you could be locked down.” 


Besides the financial stress, I think most business people are genuinely fatigued and just tired of this roller coaster.


“It’s hard work but we’ve got a lot of beautiful customers and that’s what really makes you want to get out there and enjoy what you do.” 

Also left picking up the pieces was Gary Lu, manager of Georgian Court Bed and Breakfast Guest House in East Melbourne, who said bookings had plunged despite being able to reopen.

Since June, they were making $200 to $300 a day during weekdays, which Mr Lu largely attributed to a drop in tourists and fewer people visiting the city because of restrictions limiting crowds at venues.

The state government offered cash support during the fourth lockdown with payments up to $7000, which Mr Lu said would hardly make a dent in expensive rent and overhead costs. 

He said business was slowly picking up with just seven bookings made on the weekend of June 26 to 27 when crowds were allowed to return to the footy. 

“It’s terrible. Even though the government relaxed the restrictions, still the business is not back to normal, nobody comes,” he said. 

Business partners Lianne Metcalf and Nicky Davidson, who opened their beloved Yoga Collective studio in March, said they had worked incredibly hard to get their business in Carlton up and running when the fourth lockdown took away their gains.

The pair said they felt like they were starting from scratch after all their groundwork had “literally been broken”. 

“The harm that caused us most of all was that we were just getting the word out,” Ms Metcalf said after they were forced to close their doors for three weeks. 

“Once that momentum is broken you’ve got to start again.” 

They said it was particularly hard as they had just begun attracting new clients after offering two-week passes at a discounted rate when the lockdown was announced. 

“I had been talking to businesses and offering special packages and rates to bring their staff in as a group or individually,” Ms Metcalf said. 


I was getting good responses but of course people aren’t back at work yet.


“The energy we were putting in has hurt us most.” 

They have also lost bookings as reoccurring lockdowns had changed people’s routines, particularly as winter set in.

Charlotte Keane, who runs City Haven Massage Therapy in Parkville, said it was also difficult to close her doors during the fourth lockdown. 

“Generally, people are crying out for our type of work because mental health has taken a big toll across the community and so I think our services, especially when it’s professional, have been really welcomed,” she said. 

Phillip Mansour, executive officer of the Carlton Traders’ Association, said it was great to see the “buzz” returning to Lygon St which he described as a “flagship location for people to meet friends and family, and it continues to be so”.

“In particular with the outdoor dining, the parklets have improved the capacity of restaurants and hospitality venues,” he said.

“We’re also offering $500 cash giveaways each month and that goes back to our members’ tills. It’s a really good initiative for us to help support the businesses in Carlton and get people coming back and visiting.” 

The scheme called #CarltonCash is available for people who follow @carlton_inc on Instagram where they like the post and tag two friends. 

City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the city looked forward to having more workers return to the city now that restrictions had eased and employers could welcome up to 75 per cent of their staff to city workplaces.

“Average pedestrian activity is up by 90 per cent compared to during the most recent lockdown, which is a sign that the city is bouncing back,” she said.

“We’re proud that Victorians have claimed more than $2 million in cashback in the first week of the Melbourne Money dining scheme, as people return to the city’s restaurants, cafes and bars.”

“People are also taking advantage of our FOMO Freebies campaign, which provides free giveaways to Melbourne experiences such as shopping vouchers for the Queen Victoria Market and tickets to attractions such as the Sealife Aquarium.”

“We want Melbourne to become the most vaccinated city in Australia so we can move beyond lockdowns and restrictions, stay open, bring back the buzz, and build confidence for local businesses, residents, and tourists.”

Patrick Coghlan, CEO of credit reporting agency CreditorWatch, warned 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”. 

The Victorian Head of the Australian Industry Group, Tim Piper, said the “ongoing cost of these restrictions, both directly and indirectly, are enormous and the ramifications into the future will be serious for the state’s economy and the community’s sense of wellbeing” • 

Caption: Fab Sussi outside his restaurant Tiamo on Lygon Street. Photos: John Tadigiri.

Caption: Yoga Collective Studio owner Nicky Davidson felt like she was starting from scratch after the fourth lockdown.

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