23 Jun 2020

Wellington hospitality businesses' sales still down

11:20 am on 23 June 2020

Wellington's central city lunchtime spots are calling for people to return to work, as they're still falling below their pre-Covid levels of takings.

WELLINGTON - AUG 22 2014:Traffic on Featherston Street, in the  central business district of Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.

Feathersont Street, Wellington. Photo: 123RF

The prime minister has led calls for government workers to lead the way when it comes to invigorating the CBD, and opening up their wallets to the independent businesses which need it most.

The refrain "shop local" was oft-mentioned during the lockdown, and now that people have been able to do exactly that for five weeks, some businesses are concerned they still haven't returned to their takings before.

Jenny Xiao runs Aroha - an all-vegan, lunchtime spot serving plant-based cuisine - just off Willis Street, in central Wellington.

It's one of 10 small food businesses that make up the Press Hall eatery, in what used to be the home of the Wellington Newspapers Group.

Despite being open for five weeks now, they're still taking just 60 percent of what they were than before the lockdown.

"Before the lockdown we were doing quite well," she said. "We re-opened from 18th May - the first couple of weeks, or the first month, was quite low. We were taking 20 percent(ish).

"From last week, we can see more people coming now, but still below the usual level."

The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic - the industry has received the third highest total of wage subsidy support from the Government, with over 150,000 people benefiting.

But as time wears on, businesses are having to ask some hard questions, as they hope to return to their pre-Covid level of operations.

Aroha cafe.

Aroha cafe. Photo: RNZ / Harry Lock

"We are quite heavily dependent on the people working in the office," Xiao said. "So if we can get more people in the town that will be much more helpful for us."

Around the corner on Lambton Quay, surrounded by government and corporate offices, is Dilingers - which caters for morning meetings, lunchtime breaks, and post-work pints.

Their manager, Roosa Rasanen, said while it's not completely back to normal just yet, she's surprised at how well they're doing.

She put it down to their versatility in what they serve.

"We've been lucky to have been able to land on everything: we don't only do after-work drinks, we don't only do coffee, we actually do it all. So it was easier for us to land back on that I think."

She has noticed spending habits changing.

"There was a lot of talk about corporate spending declining and decreasing. From what I've seen now people do still come in, but they do come in for drinks rather than food. So for example, our lunch trade is not back to what it was, but after-work drink sales have increased already. Nearly nearly back to the normal levels."

It's a part of town dominated by public servants and corporate office workers.

Since level 1 began, the government has implored their workers to physically return to offices and support local businesses.

There's still a suggestion they're not at full capacity.

The union which represents government workers, the Public Service Association, said the shifting of equipment during the lockdown, and the start of construction work in some buildings, meant some offices don't have enough desks or computers to seat all their workers.

"It will take time for Wellington to recover from these tough times, and public servants will continue to support that happening whether they work on the Terrace or in the Hutt," PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay said.

"Many public servants prefer working from home, and are just as productive there as in the office. Some people are more productive working from home, and employers should support this."

Outside of Dilingers, there's a plethora of choice for luncheoning public servants - from sandwich shops, to sushi bars, to artisan bakeries.

Amar and Jose, both on a lunch break, have both been coming into work since level 3.

They say they've noticed a difference about the place.

"Gradually yes, now it's like totally open," said Amar. "Previously they were scared, and maintaining their distance, but now it's pretty chilled."

"A lot of people [are] coming out, having lunch, having a conversation and that," said Jose. "[It's getting] back to normal slowly, but always be aware [of Covid-19] no matter what."

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