Another blow to businesses

Drinks are off: Local partygoers will have to drink in their homes as pubs and bars across the Valley closed due to the COVID restrictions.

Zac Standish

A SENSE of deja vu hit local businesses last Thursday evening as Premier Daniel Andrews announced that Victoria would be plunged into its fifth COVID-19 lockdown.

As a result, hospitality and retail establishments across the region have been forced to close their doors for at least five days, as the Department of Health and Human Services looks to get on top of the latest outbreak in a bid to bring the state back to some normality as quickly as possible.

For bars such as popular Traralgon nightspot The 3844, this means another weekend of important trading lost, with the timing of this latest snap lockdown falling on their three days of operation.

The bar’s owner Hrishi Venkatachalam, who runs the business in partnership with brother Magesh, detailed his first reaction to last week’s news.

“It was just disappointment to start with likeeveryone else with the thought of going into
lockdown, we just had to move things around and try to juggle the work-life balance,” Mr Venkatachalam said.

“For us, going into the weekend is when we actually open, so stock wise, calling people and telling them we don’t need the stock and returning things, there were a few things that we needed to do to prepare (for the next five days of being shut).”

Being shut over yet another weekend, he explained how much of an influence that period of lost trade has on the business.

“It is not ideal because they are our main days, but if that is when it decides to pop up we cannot control it, I would love for the lockdown to start on Sunday night and have everyone freed for the weekend,” he said.

“Only being open Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, those are very important days for us with Friday being the warm-up and Saturday being the big one and being a one day trade really as people tend to go out that night being a footy town – Friday and Saturday is where we make 80 per cent of our money so it is frustrating to not have a week of no revenue.”

In the retail sector, the OPSM store in Traralgon Centre Plaza reluctantly shut their doors to all bar critical patients, which is something manager Kylie Wright said they have been prepared for since COVID began early last year.

Here we go again: OPSM Traralgon store manager Kylie Wright braced for yet another COVID snap lockdown. photograph zac standish

“For us it was a sense of right, been there, done that, we know how to do this and just get onto with if this is what we have to do to keep the community safe,” Ms Wright said.

She highlighted the impact a five-day lockdown has on the business.

“We have lost five days’ worth of eye testing, which equates to around 17 appointments a day which have to be cancelled and rescheduled to future times, which means people are waiting even longer for an appointment,” she said.

“We try and weed out those who really need to be seen now, those whose lives are going to be impacted if they aren’t seen straight away, but besides that it just delays everything, you lose your flow, you lose your rhythm and this large backlog is created.”

With no cases in the Latrobe Valley area, Ms Wright believes it is not fair that regional
businesses, such as those in this region, are being forced to follow the same guidelines as those in metropolitan areas.

“It certainly is not fair, I am hoping we come out early and we have hopes that we can open again on Monday, I do understand that being cases at the MCG people from the country might have brought it back – but it is still very frustrating for us being in a town with no current cases,” she said.

As for her thoughts on this hard and fast approach to lockdown Mr Andrews spoke when announcing the latest measures?

“I like that they are going hard early and trying to get this under control, but I am frustrated at those who don’t do the right thing and have forced us to be back here in this position,” she said.

This sentiment was shared by the Venkatachalam brothers, who said they cannot afford to go through another extended lockdown.

“I think five days is good, it is not convenient for us simply because it falls on our main days, but at the same time it is important to get this under control now and not risk going through another extended lockdown like last year,” they said.