As Victorians gathered anxiously around their televisions on the weekend to learn of their new lockdown liberties, for thousands of retailers the stakes were even higher.
Retailers have spent at least 80 days in continuous lockdown, on top of the lockdowns earlier this year. Beauty salons which, like hairdressers, are deeply intertwined in the mental wellbeing of their customers, have spent more time closed than open this year.
It has been a rollercoaster ride of expectations, delays and disappointment from the Victorian government however, from 2 November, all going to plan, the uncertainty around reopening will end and the years of hard work ahead of us to rebuild Melbourne retail can finally begin.
Small business owners have been the hardest hit. Far from faceless Victorians, these hardworking men and women are the lifeblood of our Melbourne community – from our hairdresser and our corner store operator, to the manager of our favorite fashion store. Retail employs one in ten Australians and these people are our friends, our neighbours, our sons and daughters and our community leaders.
For these Victorians, the extended lockdowns have eroded their businesses, their family livelihoods and their spirit. These businesses have taken years, even decades, to build; built with love and passion that embody the Melbourne culture and character we cherish.
There has been little to numb the financial pain – for some, only a few thousand dollars here and there; a drop in the ocean when compared to the mounting debts these retailers now face. Rental deferrals which – whilst important – have created a mounted debt, and hence, another mental health pressure point.
With the Christmas season officially starting only days after they reopen, every day counts in managing customer expectations and spreading demand and to keep struggling retailers afloat. Retailers make up to two-thirds of their profits at this critical time of year and that income has never been more desperately needed.
Victoria needs to start its journey to living with Covid as other states have. For retail, it couldn’t come a day too soon.
This Opinion Piece by ARA CEO Paul Zahra, was originally published in the Herald Sun newspaper