Ghost town to boom town: Maclean’s bright future
LIKE most towns, Laurie Fitzpatrick watched the main street of Maclean turn into a "ghost town" during the height of the coronavirus lockdown.
The owner of Skye's Coffee Lounge, which has been a mainstay of River St for the past 22 years, thinks the riverside town is in the perfect position to come out booming.
"I've been saying for the past 15 years if we get the supermarket and they fix the highway it'll get busier," he said.
Mr Fitzpatrick said more travellers were bypassing other areas and stopping in at Maclean.
"People are leaving Coffs Harbour, and the next place they see is Maclean," he said.
"They're just travelling further now, and I drove from Coffs Harbour to Maclean in an hour last week.
"That used to be a tough drive through all the towns, and now it's just cruising. The same thing will happen from the north."
While the development of the IGA supermarket was long touted as a vehicle for more people in the central business district, Mr Fitzpatrick said another store also held the key.
"In Maclean itself, the hardware shop has been a big boost. Whenever the hardware shop shut, people stopped coming in," he said.
"There's always someone there. If you've got those sort of businesses bringing people in all the time, we all benefit."
Mr Fitzpatrick admitted to losing many nights' sleep, figuring out how he, like many others, would survive the impact of coronavirus. Still, he said his business model and government help had been vital.
"Some of the grants were difficult, but others were easy," he said. "The NSW government grant was a 10-minute job, we met all the criteria, and in three days the money was in our account.
"That's what kept us afloat."
His staff were able to access the Jobkeeper program which had helped the business, though Mr Fitzpatrick said he had pared back the operation to he and his wife while they were only allowed to sell takeaway coffee.
"I've stayed in business for 22 years because my wife and I do 80 per cent of the work, and we pay for the other 20 per cent," he said.
"I think people think they can buy a coffee shop, make lots of money and do none of the work. I can tell you there's not much money in it and a lot of work - but that's what you do."
Mr Fitzpatrick said he had noticed the street had returned to normal much quicker than expected, and while he couldn't predict what the future held, he believed in the town to move forward.
"I think we're ready to take whatever comes," he said. "There are a few empty shops, but I think we could ramp it up if needs be.
"I honestly think this is going to be the brightest period for Maclean."