13 Sep 2021

Auckland businesses call for creative thinking if level 4 continues

9:37 am on 13 September 2021

The cafes are closed and the shops are shut - and experts say it could stay that way in Auckland for some time yet, as health authorities try and stamp out the embers of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Credit card payment EFTPOS

Photo: 123RF

But after almost four weeks at alert level 4, businesses in the hospitality and retail sectors are really feeling the pinch, and they say more creative thinking - and more targeted support for the city - is needed.

Phillip Clark, who owns two restaurants in the central Auckland suburb of Kingsland - Phil's Kitchen and Kingsland Social, said if it weren't for the two Bledisloe Cup tests at Eden Park, just before the Covid-19 lockdown, they would have been in big trouble.

"We're sitting on those funds or running out of those funds," he said.

"If it wasn't for those two All Blacks games, we probably would be singing a different note right now."

But Clark said even when Auckland moves to alert level 3, he'll be opening only one of his restaurants and adapting it for takeaways.

"It is quite difficult to do that. For example, we will have to spend, say, $1500 on takeaway containers, masks, everything, to be organised for takeaway situation.

"At $20 a takeaway dish, that's quite a lot of meals we actually have to cook before we've actually just paid for the containers alone."

While he has been able to get the wage subsidy and the resurgence support payment, Clark said Auckland's hospitality sector needed more specific support, if businesses are going to survive a fifth lockdown.

"I personally feel like hospitality is being treated like we're at the bottom of the food chain."

Wellington and Auckland restaurant co-owner of Monsoon Poon, Mike Egan, told Morning Report that with the limit of 50 people on restaurants, the industry was struggling.

"More importantly is what's gonna happen to Auckland when they get to level 2, because at least we're getting the wage subsidy in level 2 so that means we can ... keep our heads slightly above water but the government has indicated that when Auckland gets to level 2 the subsidy stops so that means their businesses won't be, sort of, viable at all."

He said they were imposing time limits on dining, but there was very little pushback from customers.

"People are great, they wear the masks, they sign in, everyone's got their head around it all so there's no pushback or anything like that.

"New Zealanders, I think we're pretty 'go with the flow, she'll be right, yeah we can do this' and the sooner we're out of it the better.

He said additional resurgence payments were great but "certainly not enough to keep bushninesses viable".

Roger Marbeck.

Roger Marbeck says his business could have handled online orders safely in level 4. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

Roger Marbeck owns Marbeck's Record Shop in Queen's Arcade, in the central city.

While they were getting used to lockdowns, this one was hitting harder - and no one knows just how long restrictions will be in place.

"We're really fortunate we have a very faithful clientele and they are supporting us, so we've got online orders quietly stacking away there, but that's only a small percentage of our business. A lot of our clientele is walk up," Marbeck said.

And if they were feeling the pinch, others would be worse off, Marbeck said.

"I really feel for those little businesses, probably a little bit smaller than us, where it's only two, three staff.

"You need deep pockets to get through this. I think there's going to be a bit of fallout over this one, because we're feeling it, the little guys are really feeling it."

But Marbeck is frustrated.

"We could operate quite comfortably doing our online business the last two weeks," he said.

"We could have easily been doing that and sort of done a bit of damage control that way, but there just seems to be no opening whatsoever."

In the meantime, businesses in other parts of the country are benefiting with Aucklanders ordering books, clothing and other items online from outside the region.

Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said that was going to disadvantage the city's small and medium businesses in particular.

The government needed to start thinking more creatively about how to get Auckland back on its feet economically, he said.

"How big is the risk for some of the regions north of the harbour bridge to be operating differently, but at least be starting to kick us back into doing some real business again."

Some estimates have put the hit on Auckland's economy at $100 million a day at alert level 4.

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