Full fridges at Adelong Café, but no one’s buying

Rick Singh isn’t sure how or if his business will survive the COVID-19 closures. Even though he’s still open, he’s seen a 90% drop in patronage.

Rick Singh mans an empty café in Adelong. It’s empty by design – customers aren’t allowed to dine in, because of government regulations aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus – but the till remains silent hour after hour. Rick was hoping that people would order takeaway food, keeping his business afloat, but that’s not happening yet.

“It started with the bushfires, but the coronavirus is making it more worse,” said Rick. He’s been at the café for four years, living in Adelong for six years. With a wife and family to support, Rick hasn’t been able to give his seven employees many hours, only calling them in occasionally at lunch time.

“That’s how it is. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything at this stage,” he said.

The café is the only regular takeaway food provider in town. The Adelong S & C Club and some of the pubs are dabbling with offering takeaway food, but Rick said so far there hasn’t been much interest in town as families self-isolate and go into private lockdown.

“It’s getting worse day by day. From the last two or three days, it’s getting worse. You can feel the difference. There’s a big drop in business,” said Rick on Tuesday.

“At this stage, there is no point in opening up. Since morning, we have had only a few customers. We used to be really busy, but now we just keep on going down and down.”

In the past, an average day would see 150 to 200 customers coming through the café, a mix of locals and passersby. Rick said even the locals aren’t coming out for their morning coffees any more. 

The café is still waiting for bushfire grant money to come through, after losing trade and stock during Adelong’s evacuations. Rick said they lost an entire $2,800 shipment of food when the power was cut, along with all the milk and ice cream that was in their fridges. 

“Hopefully when we apply for the BAS and the GST, then there will be some [coronavirus money].”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rejected suggestions to set up a new system for financially supporting small businesses, saying that previous governments learned through the 2008 Global Financial Crisis that the best, most effective way to support small businesses and individuals is through the channels which already exist, instead of trying to create and implement new systems. To that end, the Morrison Government is using Centrelink and the BAS systems to offer grants and payments for those who can show they’ve been financially affected by COVID-19 closures.

While shoppers rush for the last packs of sausages on local supermarkets and butchers’ shelves, Rick has plenty of steak and bacon to go around; he just doesn’t have anyone buying it.

“I spoke with our supplier and he said at this stage, they’ve got heaps, but we don’t know what comes up.”

Nothing is certain past this week, said Rick, but all he knows for this week is that it’s “not looking good,” and he’s not holding out much hope in the short term. 

“Everyone’s sort of scared. They’re just staying home as much as they can. It’s a big drop.”