Businesses buckle under weight of new virus rules

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Cafe operator Alasdair McGregor is continuing takeaway trade despite tough new restrictions.
Camera IconCafe operator Alasdair McGregor is continuing takeaway trade despite tough new restrictions. Credit: Warren Hately

Local hospitality venues face bankruptcy after tough social distancing regulations came into effect this week, though operators told the Times their greatest fear was the knock-on effect for the whole Margaret River economy.

Previous rhetoric around the “local circular economy” was cast into stark relief this week, with venues restricted to takeaways, pubs shut, alcohol limits for bottle shops, and visitor numbers at an all-time low making it possible some businesses would shut.

Golden Cafe owner Alasdair McGregor said he’d reduced his offering and put strict hygiene and distancing measures in place, but the goal posts kept moving.

Operators needed direct, clear instructions from the Government about the new requirements and shouldn’t have to get information from the media, he said.

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Burger Baby owner Richard Moroney said cutting his casual workforce was painful and upsetting as he rejigged his business to bare bones.

“Its flow-on effects are just huge,” he said. “The hardest thing for a business operator is the responsibility you have to the community and the people you employ and the suppliers you buy from.

“I’ve got about another month where I give it everything I’ve got,” he said. “I’ve had to stand down my team. That’s what hurt the most. They become like your family.”

Mr Moroney said if 10 businesses like his shut down, about $3.8 million would be lost to the local economy. Several outlets in Margaret River and Augusta had closed already as social isolation made trade unviable.

Margaret River Chamber of Commerce president Melissa d’Ath was scrambling to collate feedback from hard-hit operators this week ahead of a regional business teleconference with Premier Mark McGowan.

Her own Margaret River Artisan store also made adjustments to continue trading this week.

The Margaret River Wine Association lamented the knock-on effect for cellar doors and restaurants. “Our hearts break today as our inbox and social media feeds are filled with announcements from our amazing Margaret River cellar doors and winery restaurants as they close their doors for wine tours and tastings, to restrict social gathering and the spread of this awful virus,” chief executive Amanda Whiteland said.

“As we increase our social distancing, please keep in touch with our region’s amazing wineries as many are still offering wonderful online and takeaway sales.”

“These direct sales are really important to support the wine industry and keep small businesses alive through these unprecedented times.”

Takeaway alcohol sales restrictions which came in on Wednesday morning would also be investigated by Vasse MLA Libby Mettam who expressed concern about adverse effects for the sector.

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