Small businesses left reeling after another lockdown

Brendan Rees

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp has urged the federal government to set national targets for the level of vaccinations after declaring “uncertainty is hurting businesses as much as the lockdowns”.

It comes as hundreds of small businesses in inner city Melbourne have been left devastated after enduring yet another lockdown in July.

Rose Gibaldi, manager of Stuzzichino Cafè Restaurant and Bar in Lygon St, Carlton, said daily revenue since the lockdown began – from selling takeaways – was down 90 per cent on normal trade.  

“We’re pulling out like maybe $100 a day each, just trying to put out a wage for ourselves just to have some money,” she said.


“We’re not actually here for the money, we’re here because a lot of our regulars in the morning have their coffee before they go to work and we’re doing the right thing by them.”


While she supported the government’s cash support, Ms Gibaldi said “it’s not working because there are a lot of people around us that haven’t made it, they’ve closed down.


She said it was important the government gave more clarity to business owners as “it takes like a good month or two before people start coming out and the confidence that it’s safe [after lockdowns] – and that’s what stresses us”.

“We thought finally we’re back on our feet again and things are starting to be back to normal and then bang, another lockdown.”

Ms Gibaldi said their cashflow was “not even close” to being able to pay rent and overhead costs but was grateful they had an “amazing landlord” who was “quite understanding”.

Joanne Gibson, who runs a hair salon on Lygon St called Honey Ryder, said she had been racking up debts after her business closed due to COVID restrictions.

“It’s enough to make you really shut the doors and say ‘I’ve gone broke’ but I don’t give up that easily,” the 60-year-old sole trader said.

She said she was reliant on savings and had to put bills on hold – such as rent and her phone account – to make ends meet.

“It’s pretty scary. I just had to move my business because my lease was up … so I’ve had the relocation costs as well.”  

Also left reeling was Chris McDonald, the managing director of StayCentral Melbourne Corporate Apartments (which includes a restored 1930s art deco apartment in East Melbourne), who had experienced “very tough” times with bookings and revenue drying up once lockdowns or restrictions were announced.  

“We have barely had four to six weeks to recover from the lockdown that ended in early June (like we did after the mid-February lockdown) and we’re in lockdown again,” he said. 

“This is the first time in the 16 years that I’ve had this business, when I’ve had to shorten the cancellation period down to within two days of the arrival date.”

“The property owners are frequently families who have made an investment towards their retirements, and they have large mortgages as a result. They have been impacted by this slowdown in the hospitality industry.”

“There’s just no point working out how much money the business has lost. It is more important to focus on generating new bookings and retaining the very talented staff that it has.”

Mr McDonald said government grants had helped “to keep our heads above water” while he was able to “reinvigorate the business”.

He said StayCentral was a small Australian business and didn’t “want its services to diminish while large conglomerates take over the industry.”

The lockdown was also a devastating blow for Carlton Yoga Collective and SomaChi Yoga on Lygon St, which was identified as a tier one exposure site.  

The owners of the yoga studio, who declined to comment on the matter, told Inner City News in June that they had been trying to grow their client base since opening in March.

But after enduring repeated lockdowns they felt their confidence had been crushed and all their hard work had “literally been broken”.

Phillip Mansour, executive officer of the Carlton Traders’ Association, said lockdowns had rattled consumer confidence with businesses “doing everything they possibly can” to push on.

But in a sign of hope, he said the Carlton business precinct was beginning to recover before the lockdown with many shopfronts having been leased or undergoing renovations for new businesses to open.   

“Carlton hasn’t really fallen as hard as many as the other precincts like Chapel St,” he said, adding the hundreds of soccer fans that crammed into cafes to celebrate Italy’s win in the European Championship final was “amazing”.  

“We’ve still got a really big vibe and people are coming to visit,” he said.

He said the association was still running #CarltonCash via Instagram where $500 cash was given away to one lucky winner each month and redeemable at participating eateries.   

Cr Capp said, “now is the time for the National Cabinet to set a vaccination target” so the country could “open up and live with the virus.”
“After more than a year of lockdowns there is still no ‘freedom day’ on our horizon which means there is no hope for our small business owners and workers,” she said.
“National Cabinet must urgently agree on how many people need to be vaccinated before the lockdowns stop. This will provide certainty and confidence to business that there is an end date for the devastating lockdowns, state border closures and crippling uncertainty.”

Cr Capp said until that occurred, the federal government needed to reinstate JobKeeper so small business owners could “survive until we reach the vaccination rate that allows them to stay open.” •

Caption: Rose Gibalidi, manager of Stuzzichino Cafe Restauran in Carlton 

Caption: Long time employee Barbara Piscioneri of Stuzzichino Cafe Restaurant.

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