Eden businesses hit hard, 'downright bloody scary' economic impact of COVID worsens

Imlay Street, Eden is worryingly quiet, with tourism continuing to take an enormous blow.
Imlay Street, Eden is worryingly quiet, with tourism continuing to take an enormous blow.

There isn't really such a thing as 'business as usual' anymore.

Bushfires, floods and the pandemic have meant Far South Coast businesses have had to brace for ongoing uncertainty and disruption, attempting to adapt in whatever way possible to remain afloat.

The main street of Eden is very quiet, and Chamber of Commerce president Eric Wolskeconfirmed the impact is hitting local businesses hard.

"Businesses are doing it tough. There has been a two-year period of all this hardship, you can only take so much," Mr Wolske said.

"All we can do is advocate for more support for the businesses. Obviously we rely on tourism and we are all feeling that pinch.

"It's going to get worse before it gets better, even though Victoria is going to slowly ease restrictions, we're still going to be classed as a red zone," he said.

Mr Wolske said government support packages on offer are not providing adequate assistance to a number of smaller businesses in the area.

Kristy McBain, Member for Eden-Monaro said she had been speaking with business owners across the Eden-Monaro, including Eden.

"It's clear that the bushfires, followed by numerous border closures and lockdowns as well as the recent floods are all having a compounding effect on our local businesses," Ms McBain said.

"It really has been one blow after another."

Karen Lott has three small businesses in Eden, two of which are hospitality outlets, and employs 14 staff.

"It's just absolutely dire, I am getting deeper and deeper in debt, and can't make the wages each week," Ms Lott said.

"We are well and safe and live in a beautiful place, we are so lucky in so many ways, but the financial side of things is just ghastly.

"Each week is getting worse and hope is starting to dwindle, the fallout is going to go on for years," Ms Lott said.

The current NSW-Victoria border closure has cut Mallacoota and other East Gippsland towns off from the Far South Coast, adding to the significant impact on businesses.

The NSW-Victoria border closed again on July 11, with the whole of NSW declared a red zone. Photo: Leah Szanto

The NSW-Victoria border closed again on July 11, with the whole of NSW declared a red zone. Photo: Leah Szanto

With the immense weight of responsibility to look after her employees, Ms Lott has tried to reduce the strain by closing her businesses two days per week.

"I would be better off closing right now, but I can't do that to my staff. I know I am not the only one in this position," she said.

Ms Lott said she had been applying for funding from a government support package in order to manage part of her payroll, but workers needed to have been employed for longer than a 12-month period for eligibility.

"Hospitality is notoriously transient and I am trying to be fair to everyone," she said.

Mr Wolske said there is some land tax relief on offer to landlords to pass on to tenants via rent reductions. Although he is yet to hear from his landlord in relation to his jointly owned Eden Antiques business, he said he remains confident that all commercial landlords would help their tenants as best they can.

Michael Mashado from Pickles Fishing and Outdoors said the financial situation at the moment is "downright bloody scary".

"The majority of my trade is tourist-based, and the majority of that is Victorian, we suffer dramatically without them." Mr Mashado said.

"With people having to wear masks and sign in and out, locals are just not getting around town."

He has been running his business for three years and employs two staff.

"At the moment they are making more than I am. I'm working 12-13 hours per day, six days a week and haven't taken an income since Christmas," Mr Mashado said.

"I'd like to be able to say to my family one day that we can go out for a meal again," Mr Mashado said.

"We haven't had a holiday season since the bushfires and there's nothing for a business to even prepare for. Do we stock up this year for summer and then get shut down again?

"At the end of each month, all my suppliers want to be paid. They were understanding after the fires but have lost a lot of money themselves and are getting desperate.

"I get a weekly phone call asking me, 'can you slip us a bit more?'

"We haven't been eligible for any handouts as we just dont fit the criteria."

Ms McBain said there is support out there for individuals and businesses, but it is confusing.

"Many businesses don't know where to look and often there is a complicated application process. Bega Valley businesses have been resilient for far too long, and what they need is sufficient support from the government to get them through and they need that support rolled out quickly and seamlessly," Ms McBain said.

"It's time to bring back support that would make an immediate difference, like deferral or waiver of PAYG for a period, rather than a protracted grant process which businesses don't have the time to attend to."

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