Melbourne's small businesses have been fighting for survival since the coronavirus pandemic rocked Australia back in March.

Walking down the iconic shopping precinct of Chapel Street reveals just how badly retailers have been affected by the state's second lockdown.

Chrissie Maus, general manager of Chapel Street Precinct - Australia's largest retail, entertainment, dining and lifestyle precinct - told news.com.au despite the easing of restrictions, she doesn't foresee any more than 50 per cent of the precinct's restaurants and cafes reopening, "given the density quotas will not be equitable for many".

"So the excitement and pending announcements for reopening this sector will be somewhat veneer as half our hospitality owners and staff will be left to still suffer," Ms Maus said.

She explained that while some businesses have pivoted, 22 retailers have been forced to close their doors permanently since the pandemic hit in March.

RELATED: 'Grim' reality of Melbourne retail industry

 

Chrissie Maus, general manager of Chapel Street Precinct Association and Melissa Glentis of Dilly Daly Cafe, in Melbourne. Picture: Jay Town
Chrissie Maus, general manager of Chapel Street Precinct Association and Melissa Glentis of Dilly Daly Cafe, in Melbourne. Picture: Jay Town

 

A quiet Chapel Street is seen on September 06 in Melbourne. Picture: Daniel Pockett
A quiet Chapel Street is seen on September 06 in Melbourne. Picture: Daniel Pockett

Her comments come after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a slew of changes on Monday afternoon - including news that Melbourne's lockdown will finally come to an end as of midnight Tuesday.

Among the easement of restrictions will be the retail industry, along with restaurants, hotels, cafes and bars where a maximum of 20 people can be seated indoors, with 10 people per space and a maximum of 50 people outdoors, with one person per two square metres.

Victorian pub owners have welcomed news they can re-open but like Ms Maus, they too agree there are still concerns surrounding restrictions.

"We think up to 70 per cent of pubs won't open at this first stage," David Canny, President of the Victorian branch of the Australian Hotels Association told 3AW's Tom Elliott.

He said the limits simply weren't viable for some businesses.

"We are still very concerned about the restrictions that are going to be placed on hospitality and whether it is really viable to open," he said.

"We know that a lot of hotels, particularly in the CBD, simply won't open."

He called on the government to use the one person per four-square metres rule, as used in other states.

COVID-19 has caused a worldwide recession. Picture: Ian Currie
COVID-19 has caused a worldwide recession. Picture: Ian Currie

Ms Maus, who oversees 2200 small businesses in the Chapel Street Precinct, said now more than ever is when the industry needs support.

"Because once we get to the end of March and JobKeeper stops, that's when were going to see the real devastation," she told news.com.au

"I am concerned about density quotas, but most importantly I am concerned about when the insolvency laws taper off as that's when we see what coronavirus has really done to our local economy."

Last month, the Federal Government announced it will extend insolvency relief measures until the end of the year, which were put in place as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described it as a "regulatory shield" to help viable businesses to survive as they adapt to a new COVID-safe economy.

However, Ms Maus said revenue loss is already in the "millions upon millions" with consumer spending declining considerably.

RELATED: coronavirus Australia live updates

She said when Job Keeper ends, that’s when ‘were going to see the real devastation’ to the local economy.
She said when Job Keeper ends, that’s when ‘were going to see the real devastation’ to the local economy.

She explained that while some businesses have been able to adapt, others have been forced into permanent closure.

"There are many cafes and restaurants trying to go online, but in some cases they are only selling one pizza, or one meal a night. It is heartbreaking to watch," Ms Maus told news.com.au in September.

She said the last 12 months had been relentless with some huge developments (on King Street) cutting off foot and road traffic which has been disruptive for many businesses.

"The sad thing about this is in the lead up to Christmas we started seeing more shops open but just as we turned the corner, the smoke (bushfires) hit and coronavirus began - so it has been death by a thousand cuts."

 

 

According to City of Melbourne data, the municipality's hospitality industry contributed $2.5 billion to the Victorian economy before the pandemic struck, but just 45 per cent of food businesses managed to keep operating during the six-week April and May lockdown.

However, speaking to more positive news, Ms Maus said the precinct has had 14 new businesses open in the last month.

"It has been one of those things where we've seen landlords become more flexible with terms and conditions, and have really seen that both parties need to come to a negotiation."

"Many (landlords) have offered three to six months free rent for many new, businesses from a variety of sectors to come in and get started, which is not only pleasing, but really exciting for the future."

A woman walks past an empty shop along Chapel Street in Prahran. Picture: Daniel Pockett
A woman walks past an empty shop along Chapel Street in Prahran. Picture: Daniel Pockett

 

In order to revive Melbourne's most popular shopping precinct, Ms Maus said there needs to be more state funding.

"We also need the support from the community to help keep local businesses alive especially leading into Christmas - if you can buy from local businesses rather than eBay or Amazon, that will be the greatest gift," Ms Maus said.

"It's just really important we think about where our money goes."

Last month, Chapel Street Precinct Association kicked off a critical survival campaign called 'Two Words. Support Local' encouraging Melburnians to spend their money with independent local businesses.

"We need to get every business to the other side of this pandemic and we need our communities' help. This is a plea for Melburnians to do everything in their power to spend their money with local businesses that are independently owned and in dire need of support," Ms Maus said.

 

Originally published as 'Melbourne pubs simply won't open'

Chapel Street is not immune to the effects the coronavirus has caused. Picture: Ian Currie
Chapel Street is not immune to the effects the coronavirus has caused. Picture: Ian Currie


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