Pandemic no barrier to new business

Photographer/videographer Grant Hardwick (centre) with Coach House Cafe owners Jess Simpson and Simone Guascoine. The trio say that starting their businesses during the pandemic was made easier by having strong support from other new businesses in The Connection. Credit: Grant Hardwick Videography.

Tumut’s ‘The Connection’ has seen a burst of new life in recent months, with five new small businesses opening during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photographer, videographer and online marketing pro Grant Hardwick is one of the youngest and most recent new business owners to set up shop in The Connection, saying the supportive community in the Snowy Valleys is what keeps him here.

“There were times, even just trying to work regionally when I thought, ‘It’s really hard’,” he said, “But it’s great doing a small thing in a community, a niche thing, and you’re a requirement, but the prospect of moving to a bigger area where you’ve got more people interested in what you’re doing was always on my mind.

“But I do love the country and I don’t want to be one of those people who grow up in the area, start something really good, get famous and leave. 

“I want to keep that in the regional areas.”

He started his business, Grant Hardwick Videography, after graduating from Tumut High School and completing a four year mechanical apprenticeship with Snowy Hydro. 

The pandemic descended as his business opened, but Mr Hardwick said it gave him time to develop his work and plan ahead.

“I didn’t do much during the lockdown here, because no one could really do much regionally, but since the end of lockdown, people have really been advertising a lot,” he said. 

“It’s coming into summer time, exciting times for everyone … and actually one of my photos has been featured on the official ‘Australia’ Instagram page [yesterday], which has five million followers.”

At The Coach House, owners Simone Guascoine and Jess Simpson said the changing pandemic rules have been confusing, but being able to share information and passion for their businesses has helped the five businesses.

“The Connection’s become alive this year” said Ms Simpson, pointing to the nearby music school, art therapy school, videographer and midwifery.

Ms Guascoine said the arrival of fresh ideas and businesses had been a benefit for all.

“For us, it’s been easier because we have the new businesses, so we all bounce off each other,” she said. 

“Gemma and Jenna (from The Village) come in here, Grant comes in, we see a lot of Marty and Lisa (Pannell) and we’re able to say, ‘Hey, how are you going? What are you doing with this?’

“It’s really great to have that little networking feedback. Especially when you’re in the same place. It works really well, because we send people everywhere. If we can’t do something… we send them to the other cafes.”

The pair said their priority is to see the entire Tumut business community grow.

“Everybody wants everybody to do well, because it’s good for the town,” said Ms Guascoine.

While it’s been an exciting time, Ms Simpson said it’s also been challenging for both business owners and customers to deal with the changing health orders.

“It’s been confusing,” said Ms Simpson, describing how she found out about the most recent lockdown just three hours before it began.

“We’re having to adapt so quickly,” agreed Ms Guascoine, “But also being really mindful of the customers. As confusing as it is for us, they come one day and then suddenly it’s all changed again. That’s the hardest part.”

The pair said the current segregation of vaccination and unvaccinated customers ‘goes against our grain’.

To ensure they maintain a sense of inclusivity in the cafe, they decided to continue to serve dine-in customers in their covered areas, while also providing takeaway meals and drinks which can be consumed in The Connection’s open ‘picnic’ areas.

“We’ve still got to work with the guidelines,” said Ms Simpson, “But that way, they can all come.”

Far from feeling disheartened by the economic impact of the recent lockdowns, the pair are nervous they’ll be too busy in the months to come.

“We’re scared about how busy summer’s going to be,” said Ms Simpson.

“The Long Weekend for us was really, really busy.”

Ms Guascoine agreed, expecting a flood of city-dwellers once travel restrictions are lifted.

“They will want to come and see the regional areas, we just have to be prepared for that,” she said.

The business owners gathered at a recent ‘Welcome to Spring’ event, hosted by the Snowy Valleys Council in The Connection for small business owners.

Mr Hardwick said he was encouraged to learn about other new businesses in the region, including Our Snowy Tours, a charter company conducting tours of the Snowy Valleys and Snowy Monaro.

“They were telling us there’s a candy shop in Tooma pub, which I didn’t even know,” he said, “I used to drive past that every week.”

He described the ‘great network of support regionally’ which he has enjoyed locally as he grows his start up.

“The community of businesses in this area is just fantastic,” he said.