Retail still open

Tumut shops were empty on Monday afternoon, with many shoppers mistakenly thinking retail stores were closed at noon, along with pubs, clubs and churches.

Pubs, clubs, cafes and even churches are closed over fears of the spread of coronavirus, but retail is still well and truly open. The problem is, not many people are shopping as fears mount over long-term unemployment and coronavirus lockdowns.

At Swans of Tumut, co-owners Kellie King and Wendy French said customers on Monday morning thought they’d be closed at noon, along with other public spaces. Kellie and Wendy say they haven’t heard any news of retail closing down in the immediate future.

“We’re still trading as normal and I guess you would say this is our first day where it’s been quieter,” said Kellie on Monday. “Up until today, it’s been business as normal.

“The only change is going to be how many people are allowed in the store at one time.”

Wendy French and Kellie King watch over an empty Swans of Tumut, concerned that as people stop going to work, demand will drop for uniforms and workwear.

The ladies employ three people and are concerned that if parents aren’t sending their kids to school and people aren’t going to work as often, they’ll see a sharp, prolonged drop in sales. 

“If the mills are to shut or the council is to shut, those are the kind of companies that we supply to, so there’s obviously not going to be a high turnover of workwear, that will hit us hard,” said Kellie.

“At the moment, I think we’re going to continue to trade as normal,” she said. “We can offer a delivery if people aren’t wanting to come into the shop.”

A few doors up, David Prosser at Tumut Fishing Camping & Outdoor Store said he was in a good position, with only his son and himself on the books. 

“There’s only the two of us, so I don’t have to worry about staff. If I was having to worry about staff, I’d be [very stressed], because how long’s it going to run for?”

David said his only plan so far is to go fishing and camping if things get bad.

David Prosser at Tumut’s Fishing Camping & Outdoor Store said he’s ready to go hunting and fishing for four months.

“Financially, I’d be fine for four to five months. I can ride this out,” said Dave, “but I’m in a very fortunate position. I don’t have a lot of costs if I have to shut the doors.

“Your stock’s just all going to sit here and hopefully when you open back up, you can go again, but when’s that going to be?”

At The Loft, Margaret Wade doesn’t have any employees to worry about besides herself and her sister, but she still has rent to pay and winter stock is coming in. If she doesn’t sell anything over the next few weeks, she’s not sure she’d be able to stay open.

“It dropped pretty quick last week,” said Margaret of her sales. “Just when we thought we were going to pick up a little bit [after the fires], it’s just gone.”

The Loft sells upscale ladies and formalwear which isn’t in high demand at the moment with most events cancelled, large sections of the community facing possible unemployment or forced holidays and many people spending their disposable income on hoarding groceries (despite direct calls from Prime Minister Scott Morrison not to buy more than necessary).

“I can’t look ahead, because I don’t know. I have no plan,” said Margaret.

Margaret Wade at The Loft worries she’ll sink if the current downturn in retail sales lasts the six months the government has suggested.

“Financially, we’ll probably sink rather than swim, because if it’s six months, who can sustain? I’ve got no other income.”

Margaret said her sister lives with her husband on a property and they’ll likely weather the storm, but Margaret’s only income comes from the shop. She said retail sales have been slow for the past 12 months, but the virus closures have devastated her business.

“If I can’t sell anything, I can’t pay for my stock. I’ve still got electricity and rent to pay for. The business will not be viable without customers.”

On Monday, Margerat was trying to research the stimulus packages available for small businesses, but the websites were crashing due to the volume of people trying to access services online. 

Looking down the track, Margaret anticipates an explosion of events and spending once the restrictions are lifted and the worst of the pandemic is over. She’s just not sure if that will come too late for The Loft.

“When you look right to the end, it does look good,” she said. 

“We’ve just got to get there.”