4 May 2020

Ōtaki shops get creative to survive Covid-19 lockdown

From Checkpoint, 5:46 pm on 4 May 2020

Ōtaki is famous for its retail shopping and outlet stores, but after weeks of forced closure under Covid-19 lockdown rules, many are having to think creatively to survive.

Maude Heath runs Artel Gallery in the town's main street. Her store is lined with paintings and sculptures and all manner of artworks, mostly from local artists.

She has reopened at lockdown alert level 3, with a table blocking the front door and customers making their purchases from outside. 

"It's been really, really difficult, not being open. Now under level 3 we can be open but we're talking through doorways and windows. 

"What we're finding in Ōtaki generally is people aren't out and about, and the businesses here need the public, they need customers." 

In the meantime, Heath is doing the same as many small business owners across New Zealand - building a web presence. A makeshift photo studio has been set up at the front of the store.

"I took the website down and I've been building it from scratch. It's just been taking acres of photographs, getting our artists to send images in ... we just have to be online, that's it, and I think it will be like that for a long time."

But many retail stores in the Kāpiti Coast town have their lights off and doors locked. 

Vanessa Rangi from New Zealand Natural Clothing started back at work on the Tuesday at the beginning of level 3. The store would usually be filled with customers.

When Checkpoint visited, it was just her and another staff member helping fill a flood of online orders.

Aside from the endless train of trucks driving past, Rangi said she has noticed more people out since level 4 lockdown ended.

"We've just been busy tidying up the store and getting things all ready to go for level 2. There have been a few people out and about grabbing coffees just down the road here." 

RiverStone cafe owner Jeanine Cornelius has been looking forward to reopening and thanks to government support she has been able to keep all of her staff employed.

The cafe caravan is surrounded by road cones and there are signs reminding a steady stream of customers on social distancing rules.

"Our staff are looked after because of the subsidy, and thank goodness that subsidy is there. We have put a lot [of] our money back into it again just to keep our suppliers, because ... you tend to use local more than anything. Because we're suffering, we don't want them to suffer, so you go that extra mile to get them paid."

Cornelius says they have been busy since reopening when level four lockdown finished. She is confident the town will bounce back from Covid-19.

"Everybody has been hanging out for that coffee. But I also feel that Ōtaki is a small community and our locals are supporting us. But yes hopefully I'll still be here in six weeks time, and just keep going."