Grit and determination as we face stage three

Sarah Luke

STAGE three restrictions came into force across regional Victoria on Thursday, closing some businesses and forcing others to heavily adapt regular practices to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

People who can work from home must work from home, with many businesses turning to online platforms like Zoom or Skype to communicate with clients, or digitising retail operations.

Restaurants and caf├ęs can continue to open for takeaway and delivery only.

Pubs, bars, clubs and nightclubs must shut, unless they can offer takeaway or home delivery of food and alcohol only.

Bottle shops will remain open.

Locally, the blanket closure will also affect galleries, museums, historic sites, cinemas, concert venues, theatres and auditoriums.

Beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons, spas, tattoo parlours and massage parlours cannot operate under stage three restrictions.

Hairdressing businesses can open, provided they comply with requirements for record keeping.

The only markets permitted to operate are food and drink market stalls.

Maffra Business and Tourism Association president Marcus Stobie said it might be more frustrating the second time around, but believed the community would continue to support local businesses, as it did during the first implementation of stage three restrictions.

“The support has probably bought us some time,” he said.

“If we had to close that first time, we would have been left high and dry now, with creditors to pay etc, but being able to trade through has allowed us to prepare.”

Mr Stobie said the most difficult part of the changing restrictions was keeping flexible and moving with new announcements.

“Business owners will have to consider restricting or changing trading hours again,” he said.

“The reality is if you can trade, you have to, so you just have to put all the precautions in place so you can.”

Mr Stobie said trading under restrictions was likely to be a long term adaption, so people needed to adjust their business models and reconsider stock levels going forward.

“We’ve just done our orders now for January next year, so we haven’t ordered as much – it’s a proceed with caution approach,” he said.

Mr Stobie said while retailers seemed to be able to tread water, the events management and hospitality scene was taking the biggest “kick to the guts” – “in particular, the ones that don’t offer a service outside of that venue space”.

“The local hospitality guys who have stayed in the game have done pretty well with their new takeaway options, but the event management industry is stuck in a holding pattern – places like Mewburn Park and The Vines On Avon,” he said.

“People cancelled weddings the first time around, then a lot of people re-booked, and now they’re going to have to field a whole heap of cancellations again,” he said.

“They’re a bit in no-man’s land and they can’t plan anything – forward planning is virtually impossible for them.

“It’s so hard for anyone in that creative space – they want to get back to work, but they just can’t.”

Mr Stobie said while people seemed to have some disposable income during the first round of restrictions, things could be different when JobKeeper payments slow down.

“That’s probably when we’ll start getting a good look at the collateral damage, how many people are out of employment, when things aren’t propped up anymore,” he said.

Mr Stobie said he considered himself lucky to operate in a tight-knit regional community like Maffra.

“COVID-19 restrictions have allowed a lot of businesses to reconnect with their community,” he said.

“A lot of people have returned to their local stores, to support local retailers who might be doing it tough.

“I’ve noticed that in this store as well, people have come back who we may not have seen for a little while, for whatever reason … especially the plus 30s who may have been dabbling in online shopping, have come back to small business.

“It’s put things in perspective for them a bit. “Taking a trip down the street to go and get a coffee or buy a shirt has taken on a whole new meaning now.

“That’s the outlet – the highlight of the day – whereas before, you took it for granted.”