‘‘It was already hard and this has made it five times harder. It’s really uncertain,’’ said Nellerichal ‘‘Sree’’ Sreeju, who owns Pookipoiga gift store on Bridge Road in Richmond.
For business owners such as Mr Sreeju, the uncertainty is poised to get worse with the announcement that ‘‘non-essential’’ retailers will have to close from midnight on Wednesday.
There will be some exceptions, including allowing retailers to work onsite to fulfil online orders, click and collect, and delivery services.
‘‘It has been a rollercoaster. In March, it was really eerie and quiet, and then there was the boost from the stimulus package. Luckily for us, people have been finding us online,’’ Mr Sreeju said.
Pookipoiga – which stocks sustainable and fair trade products – did relatively well in July thanks in part to Mr Sreeju pivoting and offering his products to companies that wanted to look after their staff who were working remotely.
“We’ve been doing a few corporate jobs and that’s kind of keeping us afloat now but the street income, we’re doing maybe 10 to 20 per cent of what we would have done,” Mr Sreeju said
We are alive. That’s all we can ask for and everything else is a bonus.
— Nellerichal Sreeju, small business owner
Under restrictions announced on Monday, barbershops and hairdressers will also have to shut down.
Joshua Mihan, owner of The Bearded Man on Chapel Street in Prahran, said the latest restrictions would be a huge blow to his barbershop, but he believed they were very necessary.
‘‘I think the sooner we can get out of this, the better,’’ he said.
‘‘I think for any business owner, six weeks of no trading, the amount of money we’ll lose is quite a lot but at the same time, I think the government has been really good to small business.
‘‘Without government support, I would definitely be in a terrible position right now.’’
The pandemic already led Mr Mihan to close his second store in the inner north Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in March.
“I acted quickly so the business didn’t suffer as much because I thought I’d rather have one stronger business than two depleted businesses,” he said.
“I suppose sometimes you need to cut your losses so you can get through hard times rather than coming out at the end with nothing.”
It’s going to mean a lot out of the government’s purses, but to do nothing, you will have no economy. Full stop.
— Anne Nalder, Small Business Association
Industry groups fear the latest restrictions will be the final nail in the coffin for many small businesses.
Despite the government announcing a $5000 support payment for affected businesses, Council of Small Business chief executive Peter Strong said there would be a high number that would not survive.
Anne Nalder, chief executive of the Small Business Association, agreed.
‘‘A lot of very good businesses are going to be destroyed,’’ she said. ‘‘Small business needs to be looked after financially. It’s going to mean a lot out of the government’s purses, but to do nothing, you will have no economy. Full stop.’’
Mr Strong said the Victorian government had handled the crisis well, notwithstanding the hotel quarantine setback.
‘‘At the moment, we’ve got to work to ensure this lockdown lasts only six weeks and people can open again because if it goes any longer, the damage will keep compounding. You won’t have an extra 10,000 businesses close, it’ll be 20,000 and we’re all afraid to put numbers on it.’’
The stage four restrictions are also keeping restaurateurs such as Dani Zeini up at night. Mr Zeini, who founded burger chain Royal Stacks and Grand Trailer Park Taverna, is deeply worried about the toll of new restrictions, such as the nightly curfew and limits on Melburnians’ movements, on his already struggling venues.
“The Melbourne CBD, 900,000 workers come to the city every week and that’s just disappeared not to mention there’s no shopping, football, tourists and then on top of that the little remaining workers we had, they can’t come,” he said.
He said the latest round of restrictions was necessary but he wished it had come sooner.
“Initially it was pretty deflating and it’s hard to be motivated,” he told The Australian Financial Review.
‘‘The first round, everyone was working together and we were keeping the doors open [for our staff who were on visas] so they could survive. That was five months ago, but the momentum is slowing waning. We’re trying to be innovative, but this time around, it’s harder to get up in the morning.’’
It’s a sentiment shared by many bosses, such as Icon Agency’s Chris Dodds and Culture AMP chief executive Didier Elzinga. ‘‘One of the biggest challenges we are seeing companies grapple with is a need to build momentum as companies try to come back from the last few months … but with a team that is exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally,’’ Mr Elzinga said.
Mr Dodds said: ‘‘We’re super-conscious of the stress and pressure Melbourne’s second lock-down is putting on our team’’.
Despite the cruel blow that COVID-19 has inflicted on businesses like his, Mr Sreeju has managed to keep a remarkably positive outlook.
“We are alive. That’s all we can ask for and everything else is a bonus,” he said.