Tough times for businesses

Hair for the Hills in Olinda is closed under Stage 4 restrictions. 212705 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

Numerous Yarra Ranges’ businesses are facing a “challenge for survival” over the next six weeks, as Victoria adapts to Stage 4 restrictions.

Dramatic changes to workplaces across Melbourne were introduced at midnight on 6 August in a bid to combat the spread of Covid-19.

This included some industries being forced to close, others – such as construction and food production – operating at reduced capacity and essential stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies remaining open.

The new restrictions saw hairdressers close for the first time since the pandemic began and major hardware stores, such as Bunnings and Mitre 10, having to move to mostly online services.

Childcare services were also impacted, with only children from workers with a permit allowed to attend childcare.

Beth Henke runs Hire a Hubby Upwey with her husband, Richard. She said they were “willing to bunker down” for six weeks, but there was no doubt the financial impacts would be significant.

“We totally understand and respect this needs to happen going forward…But for small businesses like ours, we can’t work from home,” she said.

“It’s a huge financial setback for us, we’ve got three young kids, we’ll just have to get through it.”

Ms Henke said there were added complications for businesses like hers, with management fees still having to go to Hire a Hubby head office.

“They still expect us to pay those fees, even though we cannot work,” Ms Henke said.

“It’s an added stress on top of having to worry about just keeping the roof over our head and our kids safe.”

Monbulk Mitre 10 owner Julie Murphy said that despite orders still being placed, she expected business to reduce by about half over the next six weeks.

“As of Thursday morning our retail store was closed, however, customers can ring us up, place an order over the phone, pay, and come to the front gate where there is contactless pickup – or we’re happy to deliver or they can click and collect,” she said.

“That seems to be working quite well. It’s not flat out but we have a couple of members manning the phones.

“We’ve had to put off a few casuals for six weeks which is really sad because we employ them from the local community. But we’ve had to cut the staff because our revenue wasn’t what it was.

“There are businesses in the main streets that have had to shut their doors and it’s tragic to see.”

The owner of Hair for the Hills hair salon in Olinda, Jessica Birch, said that despite the prospect of having no income for six weeks being daunting, she felt her business was in a good position.

“It was very sudden, I didn’t think we were going to go into lockdown but in terms of the business, it will hibernate quite well,” she said.

“JobKeeper helps and I’ve paid off my business loan. Basically, I have my overheads which aren’t overly huge.”

Ms Birch said that being in a small community that had provided “amazing” support gave her confidence that she could return to a busy salon once restrictions were lifted.

However, Yarra Valley Business secretary Alex Lagerway said for some business owners and operators, the next six weeks would be a “question of survival.”

“It just cuts deeper, it’s just a challenge for survival for the businesses that have been arbitrarily closed down,” he said.

“Small business exists everywhere. The ones you feel for the most are the ones that are whole dependent on the income to meet their financial and family commitments.

“The other side of it that seems to be understated is the mental impact, the psychological impact, it messes with your brain because we’re not built for this, we’re communal.”

Last week was also busy for children’s services, with the State Government announcement that only permitted workers would be able to send their children to childcare.

Gembrook’s Little Gems Early Learning owner Liz Falcone said the list of permitted workers was released at 1am on 6 August – just after the ruling came in.

“It was extremely stressful. I had hundreds of stressed parents looking to me for guidance,” she said.

“There are still a lot of families that are unsure, there are a lot of employers that are unsure of these work permits because the legal onus becomes theirs.

Ms Falcone also said that despite still being open, things would look different at the centre over the next six weeks.

“I’ve got half of my staff that would usually be in today not in and I expect it will be similar next week.

“We’re not closed, it’s not ideal but it feels wrong being here without our children being here.”

For more information about permitted workers during Stage 4 restrictions, visit https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/permitted-worker-scheme-covid-19.