Port Stephens businesses hit hard by COVID-19 closures, job losses mount

OPEN FOR TAKEAWAY: From left, Gills and Blueys managers Amy Beasey and Kaylee Menzies with operations manager Vanessa Fincher just days before the crackdown.
OPEN FOR TAKEAWAY: From left, Gills and Blueys managers Amy Beasey and Kaylee Menzies with operations manager Vanessa Fincher just days before the crackdown.

The Port Stephens business community has been rocked to its core by the latest restrictions on non-essential services in response to the spread of the coronavirus, forcing masses of business closures and job losses.

As of midday on Monday, all indoor venues such as clubs, pubs, theatres, sporting and religious places were ordered by the federal government to shut their doors to the public, while restaurants and cafes could continue to offer takeaway services only.

While the shutdown has come as a shock to many, no-one is downplaying the wider health implications the spread of the virus - if left unchecked - could unleash on the ageing Port Stephens population.

Tomaree Business Chamber president Leah Anderson said that in times of crisis business owners and staff required certainty and easy-to-access information with government support.

"We are working hand in hand with Port Stephens Council and Destination Port Stephens to ensure that access of information is available to all businesses, in simple format and updated as soon as changes are announced," she said.

"We are concerned about the number of businesses that will be closing their doors and the number of jobs lost, so it's important that these people are made aware of economic packages that are available to them."

IN OPERATION: Two Bobs bakery owners Nicky Bowden and Rob Daniels are still open for retail bsuiness in Yacaaba Street, Nelson Bay.

IN OPERATION: Two Bobs bakery owners Nicky Bowden and Rob Daniels are still open for retail bsuiness in Yacaaba Street, Nelson Bay.

Destination Port Stephens CEO Eileen Gilliland said that impacts were wide-ranging.

"Within a couple of days Port businesses and operators have taken a double hit with both the hospitality restrictions and the advice against domestic travel," she said.

"We want to ensure that individuals can access support through the government stimulus package and that businesses are ready for a rebuild and recover when that time comes. My advice to those residents who can afford it is to buy at least one takeaway meal a week from a local business."

Around 90 staff from one of the Port's largest hotel venues, Shoal Bay Country Club, were told early this week that they no longer had jobs.

General manager Brett Hunt said that staff were being supported and provided information about the government grants and Centrelink payments available to them.

EMPTY: This was the scene at lunchtime on Thursday at Nelson Bay marina.

EMPTY: This was the scene at lunchtime on Thursday at Nelson Bay marina.

"It's a terrible situation," he said. "We have been forced to close indefinitely all operations apart from the bottle shop. Some have access to holiday pay but others will need Centrelink benefits to survive."

At Raymond Terrace Bowling Club, around 25 staff were given the grim news on Monday morning by general manager Jason Stokes.

"The club is closed and bowls has been suspended. Our first priority however has always been the welfare of our staff... all of whom have been offered packages," he said.

Prior to closure on Monday, Donald Street cafe Essence Espresso had been feeling the pinch with a 40 per cent drop in clientele.

"Now that we are closed we are promoting our takeaway service," said owner Megan Tyson.

Also focusing on their takeaway and deliveries are the Blueys and Gills restaurants, situated at d'Albora Marina.

"Our outdoor dining area is generally packed during school holidays," said Blueys manager Kaylee Menzies. "We are asking locals to continue to support their local small business. Our entire menu is available for takeaway."

The Two Bobs bakery in Yacaaba Street has survived closure but owner Rob Daniels said that the new guidelines announced on Sunday evening would impact their wholesale business.

"It means we won't be able to supply local cafes and restaurants with bread. Our retail section remains open for business and we are thankful for the continued support," he said.

It is uncertain what the April Easter school holiday period will bring to Port Stephens in regard to visitor numbers, but many are predicting bleak times ahead with the very real threat of more businesses, and jobs, falling victim to the dreaded coronavirus pandemic.

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