With Melbourne entering a fifth lockdown, I fear that the small businesses that make the city what it is will not survive. And I fear more will follow.
So, we are back in lockdown in Melbourne. Lockdown No.5. I am actually quite sanguine about it, even though I had to cancel the official launch of my new book COPING. Despite those times last year when Victorians were considered Australian lepers, I believe Victoria has always handled this crisis strongly. Apart from the early, fatal, hotel quarantine stuff-ups. I believe (and said on TV) that the NSW Premier has been too little too late with her lockdown light masquerade.
On the first day of her lockdown, Premier Gladys would not even use the word ‘lockdown’. She referred to it as a ‘stay at home order’. What bullshit. And now Sydney is paying the deadly price. The NSW premier even smirked at a presser when trying to explain what ‘essential services’ were. Why florists and lingerie shops were still open. Her lame excuse was that people should not browse. And take a shopping list to the supermarket.
I am not going to get into the inevitable, predictable, internecine warfare between Sydney and Melbourne here. This pandemic knows no state or national boundaries. And recent hospital cases have shown it also has no age barriers. Young people should also get vaccinated. And nearly 10,000 have.
I said I was ‘sanguine’ about the latest emergency lockdown. That wasn’t quite fair to business. Thousands of small businesses closed, many permanently, during last year’s marathon shutdown in Victoria. Especially family-owned ones. The latest emergency lockdown will be another kick in the guts.
My local Italian restaurant, Giro d’ Italia – where I was to have held my COPING book launch – has been haunted by Covid. The owner, Dom De Marco, signed the expensive lease on his new venture the day before last year’s five-month lockdown. He estimates the new five-day blackout will cost him another $7000.
But the reality of what Covid is doing to business is exemplified by my local dry cleaner. He has been running his small family business across the road for 19 years. Next week, he is shutting up shop, permanently. His racks are almost empty. With people working from home in their trackie dacks, they don’t need suits cleaned or shirts or blouses laundered.
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With no end in sight, the shutdowns in NSW have spread to several country towns, in Victoria, Premier Andrews added another seven days to ours, and South Australia went into a seven-day padlock.
State premiers and the federal government announced some more ‘mini-Jobkeeper’ money handouts with payments to several hundred thousand businesses. But for many small ones, it wasn’t enough.
In Melbourne, a Greek delicacy shop, which had been serving Spanakopita in Richmond for 60 years, announced it was closing its doors.
This leads me to the world ‘post-Covid’. The ripples will be endless. I have theorised before about what our world will look like when we supposedly get back to ‘normal’ in a vaccinated world. And the view, to me, is bleak.
I’ll give you a few scenarios. A cost-conscious CEO looks at his $100,000 a year office rental. With his staff working productively from home with Zoom and Skype he thinks: ‘let’s get a smaller place for $20,000 a year’.
I have a friend in Sydney renting a CBD office. Her lease expires in August and she is not renewing. Her staff has been, very effectively, working from home. When they need a catch-up, she will rent a venue for a few dollars an hour.
So, look at the ripple effect. The local sandwich shop has seen maybe 5000-10,000 people walk past their door daily. Post-Covid, with people working from home, maybe 1000 possible customers walk past. Your crippling rent stays the same.
Extend the ripple. You own a parking station. The ‘car park full’ sign suddenly disappears. Maybe 70% of your customers are now working from home. And why wouldn’t they? For comfort, family, and financial reasons. Not having to sit in traffic jams for tedious hours. Not having to sit on crammed, germ-infested, trains and buses. A better quality of life. Plus, the very real financial benefits: cuts in petrol, tolls, fares, lunches, dry cleaning. That’s thousands of dollars in tough times.
And back to my embattled dry cleaner. I know from personal experience that, working from home, in casual gear and dressing gown mode, my load of shirts and jackets to the cleaners has dropped dramatically. Saves money too.
And there’s another crippling business Covid ripple. In lockdown, people have got used to not going out and have been cooking for themselves. When you again start peeling off $50 notes or sign the credit card voucher, in a restaurant you start to think:’ Was that really worth it?’ I genuinely believe this will be a huge hurdle for the embattled restaurant industry.
Covid closed many places, including some famous ones in Melbourne. I predict more will follow.
And a final Covid word: Get vaccinated.