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Businesses on their knees after enduring another “devastating” lockdown

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Brendan Rees

Businesses have suffered yet another devastating blow due to the latest lockdown, prompting calls from Lord Mayor Sally Capp for people to get vaccinated so the city could “stay open”.

“The latest lockdown is having a devastating impact on city businesses,” Cr Capp said.

“Many business owners are making daily decisions as to whether they continue opening or close up for good.”

She said “even most resilient of small business owners are struggling to stay positive” and called for “every Melburnian to do the right thing and follow the health advice” and get vaccinated.

“We need all levels of government working together and our community supporting every local business that we can.”

Among business owners to reach breaking point was George Seoud who said he had been forced to temporarily close three of his stores in the inner city after being hammered by the loss of walk-in customers from neighbouring university campuses and offices.

He said he had managed to keep one store open called MOFO burgers in Carlton which was “keeping us afloat at the moment”.

“Savings have gone … it’s ridiculous. The last couple of lockdowns have really destroyed us,” he said.

 

University campuses are closed, everyone’s studying online and it’s just destroyed me.

 

“People aren’t walking in, it’s all online orders. It’s just a ghost town.”

“The problem is if people don’t go back to work, if people don’t go back to the city, we’re doomed. We can’t be working from home for the rest of our lives.”

Mr Seoud said his popular Stovetop café in Leicester St, Carlton, had been temporarily closed – which used to be bustling with up to 100 diners before restrictions.

While he acknowledged the City of Melbourne and the state government were being supportive, he said, “unfortunately it’s not enough”.

“We just need more help … mentally, it’s not sustainable, and then it’s financially not sustainable because we need the economy to get going, we need people to spend money.”

“How do I pay my rent, how do I pay gas, electricity, water and rent and wages?”

Also reeling was Adriano of Geppetto Trattoria, a 40-year-old family-run restaurant at Wellington Pde in East Melbourne.

He said they had tried to open up for takeaway lunch “but it just didn’t work”. However, they remained open for dinner.

“We’re barely keeping our heads above water but I suppose it’s more to give my staff some needed hours and just to keep things open in the hope when restrictions ease we can reopen,” Adriano said, who asked not to use his surname.

“Almost every day is a negative. It’s tempting to close the doors but not when the staff are like your family.”

He was also grateful for the “amazing support” from his customers who were “always there for you even if it’s a message”.

Adriano added he was also offering free meals to his staff and their families as well as offering them cash “even if they’re not working”.

Jessica, a worker at a motor inn and serviced apartment site in Parkville, said they had seen bookings plummet.

She said they were dependent on regional Victorian visitors as well as patients who made appointments at nearby hospitals – but because of travel restrictions and the risks posed by health workers who had been exposed to COVID-19 in August, many would-be guests had cancelled.   

“It’s very quiet. All appointments have been cancelled unless it’s an emergency therefore we do not have patient people here,” Jessica said, who asked not to use her surname and requested anonymity for their business.

During the sixth lockdown, between 15 to 20 per cent of their 45 rooms had been occupied, she said.

In one day they had experienced $6000 worth of cancellations for November – with the bulk related to people who had planned to visit the city for major events including the Melbourne Cup and the Royal Melbourne Show.

Meanwhile, Jessica said they had received some cash support which she acknowledged was a “little bit of help” but it didn’t go far enough in paying rent and other outgoing costs.  

“We had less housekeeping, less reception hours, and also less trading hours,” she said.

The Commonwealth and state governments have offered a new round of support for small and medium businesses most affected by the extension restrictions in Melbourne.

This 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 and 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 made to around 7000 licensed hospitality premises that have previously received grants under the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund 2021 or July extension programs •

Caption: Restaurant owner Adriano, pictured with his father, Nino, who established Geppetto Trattoria in East Melbourne 40 years ago, says they are “barely keeping our heads above water”.

Caption: George Seoud, owner of MOFO burgers in Carlton, said his store was helping him afloat after restrictions forced him to close three nearby cafes.

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