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Local Businesses Look to Lockdowns

By Nicola Travers-Robinson  on March 23, 2020 in News

Open for business, by Dee Zerted.

In the midst of beach closures, social distancing and proposed lockdowns due to COVID-19, Eastern Suburbs businesses, particularly restaurants, pubs, and events organisers are taking a big hit. With new announcements every day, businesses are trying to adapt quickly to stay open and keep Sydney’s eastern beaches functioning amid a pandemic.

Events organisers like Matt Rule from The Music and Booze Company were among the first to feel the effects of social distancing.

“We were starting to get concerned about coronavirus 6-8 weeks ago,” Mr Rule told The Beast. “One of the big things early on for us was that our insurance wouldn’t cover a coronavirus cancellation.”

Limits of over 500 people in outdoor events meant they had to cancel their upcoming Bad Food Fridays festival in Marrickville and at least two of three Beer Footy Food events.

“That’s really hurt us, we’ve lost all of our income for the foreseeable future there,” Mr Rule said.

Fear and uncertainty affected local restaurants, even before social distancing measures were introduced. Beach Burrito Co. founder Blake Read saw a drop in customers even before the introduction of the 4m2 rule.

“The last few weeks it was really hard to determine whether a decrease in revenue was weather-related or coronavirus-related. Monday of this week hit, and we had the worst sales across the network that we’ve ever had,” he told The Beast.

Regan Porteous, owner of Osteria restaurant in Coogee, has also seen a drop in business since social distancing measures have come into place.

“It’s been affected massively, our booking ratio has gone down 80%,” he said.

Megan Runow, manager of the Clovelly Hotel, said the popular local watering hole has enjoyed a decent week of trade due to a surge in community spirit.

“We have actually just had a great week because we’re so local-driven and the locals are just trying to look after us. But I think, at the end of the day, they will shut us all down, which is a pain because 95% of our workforce is casual,” Ms Runow told The Beast.

Establishments such as Beach Burrito Co. are ramping up cleaning measures to protect the customers still supporting their businesses.

“We’ve done the obvious,” said Mr Read. “The sanitiser, disinfecting everything, removing everything that was communal like hot sauces and napkins. We’re using single-use when possible, including menus and handing out pre-prepared knives and forks with our meals.”

The Clovelly Hotel has also increased their hygiene routine to protect patrons and guests.

“Because we have hotel rooms as well, we usually do a deep clean once a day, so now it’s about having designated sanitary people who every hour on the hour are cleaning everything, we’re being extremely mindful of that,” Ms Runow explained.

Restaurants, in particular, are adapting well to quickly changing restrictions. Mr Porteous has felt a strong sense of responsibility.

“We introduced pick up and take away orders and they sold really well, and I’m launching a new menu this week that is more pasta-based so it travels well,” he told The Beast. “I’m thinking of designing family packages or $10 meals for the elderly and less supported, just to support, secure and stabilise the local community. Everyone has a role to play in this.”

Closing their doors is the last resort for Osteria who wants to keep community services running for as long as possible.

“I have a B plan in place, a C plan in place, a D plan in place and closing my doors will be the last resort,” Mr Porteous said. “Just for peace of mind, just to restore a bit of normality to the community.”

Protecting workers who are also a part of the local community is a high priority for many restaurant owners who spoke to The Beast.

“We realise that every week we’re in trade is another week for our staff to get wages,” Ms Runow said.

While Mr Porteous, who also manages seven restaurants in Sydney, is giving food to his casual workers that he cannot provide shifts for at the moment, all workers at The Music and Booze Company have taken a pay cut to combat the lack of business and preserve their roles.

“We’ve all agreed collectively to take some big cuts in wages early on,” Mr Rule told The Beast. “Our phase 2 cuts that we thought might happen in April or May, we’re bringing forward. The whole idea is just to batten down the hatches, comply and make sure everyone has enough money to pay rent and buy a bit of food.”

The knock-on effects to other service providers and suppliers are also beginning and will continue to be felt in the coming weeks and months.

“From the drivers who pick up the artists to the people who build the stage, the people who deliver the toilets, the people who clean the toilets, casual bar staff, there are so many people involved. It’s mind-boggling, 100 casual workers minimum, plus suppliers… these will all be affected,” Mr Rule explained. “And that’s just for one event. The tentacles of this thing are far-reaching and that’s what we’re feeling with everything.”

Ms Runow also laments how a lockdown will affect other local businesses that supply the Clovelly Hotel.

“It’s like a spider’s web, it goes off in so many different directions. We order meat trays from Lucas Meats, balloons from Balloon Saloon in Maroubra, flowers from China Clay, the list goes on,” she told The Beast.

However, through drastic changes to patronage, government guidelines and levels of fear in the community, business owners are tapping into the power of staying positive in a time of much uncertainty.

“We’ve been through worse,” Mr Read told The Beast. “Me and my current team know what it takes to fight and to pull through. We’re confident we can find a way through, we’re just not sure what the path is yet.”

Despite already losing much of his business, Mr Rule agrees.

“It’s a funny time, but everyone’s in it. My personal take on it is that there’s something bizarrely comforting about the fact that we’re all in this together.”

Mr Porteous also affirmed that positivity was paramount.

“I’m just doing everything I can to make sure my team stays positive and that they’re looked after, and I just want to put that out into the community too,” he said.

Many are waiting to see what happens next with the Berejiklian government forecasting further lockdowns over the next two days.

“The thing is that there is a sense of being completely and utterly positive but also listening to the news and knowing that there is a chance we could just shut down completely,” Ms Runow told The Beast.

Please support these and other local businesses where you can. Your community depends on it.