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Inner city locals celebrate Freedom Day

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Katie Johnson

The inner city sputtered back to life on October 22 as people poured out onto the streets and into cafés for the first time in three months.

The easing of restrictions came as a huge relief for traders and locals alike who took full advantage of the rare sunny day.

Friends Sarah and Lucy were dining at Milk the Cow on Lygon St to celebrate with a sit-down meal.

“We were cautious and hadn’t seen each other since July and we’re both working at hospitals, so it’s a bit scary but we’re also celebrating,” Sarah said.

“It’s nice to see each other but I’m a bit hesitant as to the number of patients that we’re going to have to see,” Lucy agreed.

Manu Sahni, who has owned Carlton Newsagency for 18 years with his wife, said the lockdown had been “the most challenging time” they had seen in the past two decades.

“We are happy the lockdown has finished, we are hoping for a bumper year with whatever is left of it now and we would hope people would come to us for their Christmas shopping,” Mr Sahni said.

 

We have everything you need so please come and support your local newsagency.

 

Mr Sahni said that he was looking forward to enjoying more freedoms to decompress from the stress of the past two years.

“We have seen the GFC, all of the bad times, but this was the worst of the lot,” Mr Sahni said.

“I’m looking forward to going to see my parents who are back in India, so when the border opens up that’s the first thing I’ll be doing.”

Manu’s wife Kiran was also overjoyed that the lockdown had ended and was hoping locals would come out to support the shop.

“The vibe is good and we’re feeling good, we’ve had a very challenging last two years because of lockdowns and small newsagencies like us survive on local support so we’re hoping people choose us for their next year stationary needs, and for Christmas and Halloween needs,” Mrs Sahni said.

Elthalm locals Monika and her young son Gabriel were soaking in the Lygon St atmosphere and said it “felt so good to be out and about”.

“It’s amazing feeling that freedom again and I’m most excited to go to the swimming pool and yoga and shopping as well.”

“The first thing I did today was travel here to have a coffee at a café and it was incredible.”

For many businesses however, the density limits and vaccine mandates presented new problems.

Copperwood owner Simon Rahme said that although it was great the lockdowns had lifted, the restrictions made it difficult to re-open.

“It’s very tough on business because a lot of our staff are not fully vaccinated so we’re operating on very small staff levels which makes life very difficult,” Mr Rahme said.

 

It’s been a messy way to re-open with no clear guidelines – a few days ago we were told that staff had to be fully vaccinated which we didn’t know before.

 

Mr Rahme also said that it was difficult to have the onus on individual businesses to lock out unvaccinated people.

“The situation I’m worried about is if a customer gets aggressive when we have to ask them to leave because they don’t have their vaccination certificate,” Mr Rahme said.

“I can handle it but what about my girls who are working here? I feel like I have to be here the whole time policing it at a time where we’re begging people to come and spend money.”

“Instead of being thankful for people coming to spend their money, I have to scrutinise what kind of money I’m accepting.”

Donnini’s owner Marco Donnini said that despite the challenges, their re-opening had gone smoothly.

“There was a bit of anxiety explaining to our customers all of the requirements and restrictions, but everyone has been very positive,” Mr Donnini said.

“Nerves turned into excitement pretty quickly.”

Many locals were also out getting a much-needed haircut, which Hairhouse Warehouse employee Parsa said was a joy to see.

“It feels like things are going back to normal again, we’ve been quite busy today so it’s good to see people out again, walking around, living their lives,” Parsa said.

“Today I was worried about whether or not those who had booked would be double vaccinated and cooperate but so far, we’ve had no issues, and no one has been angry when we’ve asked for the certificate.”

Carlton Inc executive officer Phil Mansour said that there had been a “huge lift in confidence and trade” since restrictions eased.

“The weekend just passed saw a large lift in patronage with a great variety of outdoor dining and shopping being offered by our traders,” Mr Mansour said.

“Carlton has always been known for its outdoor dining precinct and continues to lead by example in a safe manner.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp was also enjoying Freedom Day, choosing to enjoy a beer at Carlton North’s Great Northern Hotel.

“It’s all about freedom and celebrating a great effort by Victorians,” the Lord Mayor said.

“For many businesses it’s still not economically feasible to open yet but we’ve hit the 70 per cent double vaccination rate so it’s still important to celebrate this progress even if we’ve still got some work ahead of us.” •

Caption: Carlton Newsagency owner Manu Sahni and his son Raj were ready to welcome customers back for the holiday season. Photos by John Tadigiri.

Health care workers Sarah and Lucy were enjoying their first sit-down meal in months.

Carlo and Angelo of Corretto Pizzeria were serving a full house.

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