Retail rebounds post-Covid

For some Tumut retailers, the return to normal conditions feels like a huge lift after a year of Covid clamp-downs; for others, it feels like a drop, but almost all agree that Tumut’s CBD seems to be back to its pre-Covid “normal” volumes. 

That is, except for Hansie Armour at The Abbey Footwear, who posted her best day on record after decades of selling shoes in Wynyard St.

“There have been wonderful days,” she said, “The damn thing is, they’re not stopping and I’m getting very tired.”

Mrs Armour had her record day on the Thursday before Good Friday, selling ‘not quite three times’ as much as a usual Easter weekend, but more than double. 

The Easter period in Tumut is already the town’s standout for sales each year, but Mrs Armour said waves of tourists have been clearing her shelves faster than she can re-stock.

“It’s really hard to get stock out of the supply chain at the moment,” she said after unloading a shipment last week which was supposed to arrive in February.

“It’s actually quite scary, you’ve got to keep up your stock and you need more people, because you don’t want to wear yourself thin, but you don’t know how long it’s going to last.” 

Like others along the main street, Mrs Armour said she spent her days playing ‘spot the local’, with the majority of her sales coming from people passing through the region.

“You wonder, ‘How long are these people going to keep coming to Tumut,’ but they haven’t stopped.”

Margaret Wade at The Loft Fashion House agreed her bump in sales was largely being carried by visitors to the town.

“Whether it’s because people can’t get overseas and they have to get out and about and see country areas, I don’t know,” she said, adding that she’s also struggling to get stock.

“All these weddings popped up and people want things, but suppliers didn’t want to get stuck with things if there was another outbreak and a lockdown.”

Ms Wade said she’d seen a sharp increase in the number of customers looking for wedding outfits now that Covid limits have been lifted on nuptial celebrations. She’s been posting sales numbers on par with – or slightly above – autumn seasons in pre-Covid years. After a long, harsh lockdown during which few shoppers were buying formal outfits, Ms Wade said the return to normal felt like a relief, though the future is still uncertain.

“Early March things started to increase and then all of April … but in the future, who knows? It’s unknown out there. I’d like things to stay on this level, but June is always our quietest month.”

Anticipating a crowd during the Falling Leaf Festival weekend, Ms Wade brought her sister in for help, but said the Saturday of the event was one of her worst days in the past month.

Retailers throughout the town agreed that during the Festival, few party-goers left the park to spend their money in the main street, but Virginia Robinson of Inside Out Homestore said it was a good sign for the town.

“They have a good time here, they come back, it’s wonderful,” she said.

“It was so quiet in the main street, you could get a park anywhere you needed to. The locals couldn’t believe it.”

Mrs Robinson said her homewares business stayed very busy all throughout Covid and is now feeling a bit of relief as conditions return to normal.

“There’s still tourists around, but it’s slowed down a little [since Easter], which is what it normally does.

“Things have been very, very good and now it’s gotten back to normal and that feels quiet, but I feel very good.”

Ground Up Tumut has seen a similar pattern over recent months, with Covid prompting strong bicycle sales across the country.

Owner Michelle Rossiter said her numbers have been “pretty consistent” since the start of Covid, but she had few buyers while the Festival was being held at Bila Park, just down the road from her store.

“It was our quietest Saturday [in a while], but it was great to see lots of people out and about,” she said.

In general, sales for the bike and outdoor recreation shop have been “great”.

“Just going up and up, very consistent,” said Mrs Rossiter.

“We’ve just had so many tourists coming down.”

An avid cyclist herself, Mrs Rossiter said she cycles the Riverwalk down to the Riverglade Caravan Park most afternoons and it’s always “absolutely chockas”, with people visiting the Snowy Valleys.

The Snowy Valleys Council doesn’t have a foolproof method for tracking visitor numbers, but said the organisation’s social media following has increased by 46 per cent over the past 12 months, and website views for Visit Snowy Valleys are up 249 per cent, with 87 per cent of website visitors new users of the site.

An SVC spokesperson said there have been “clear spikes” in visits to the Visit Snowy Valleys website coinciding with the launch of various tourism campaigns and promotions.

“Council has been working to promote the region into key markets, and consolidate our exposure in existing markets like the Riverina and Albury Wodonga,” said the spokesperson.

The SVC has also been promoting the region in national media, including the Australian Traveller magazine, which has an estimated combined reach across printed and digital platforms of 2.1 million people.