Port Stephens businesses starting to reopen after COVID-19 restrictions lifted

BACK TO BUSINESS: Tammy Kelly and Melissa Stewart from Evviva Cafe and Bar, Seabreeze Hotel chef Jessie Inskip and Mel Pinchen with Trina Affleck from Pizazz. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts
BACK TO BUSINESS: Tammy Kelly and Melissa Stewart from Evviva Cafe and Bar, Seabreeze Hotel chef Jessie Inskip and Mel Pinchen with Trina Affleck from Pizazz. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts

After weeks of uncertainty brought on by the global coronavirus pandemic, many Port Stephens businesses have reopened their doors and the message from store owners is clear: "We want your business."

What's more, store owners have taken advantage of the downtime by reassessing business models and launching into maintenance tasks, cleaning and sanitising shop surfaces, furniture and items for the health and safety of customers and staff.

For many small businesses in Port Stephens, Friday, May 15, was the first day in nearly two months they were permitted to open their doors to the public after the state government had eased restrictions around public gatherings and visitation numbers. Physical distancing and hand hygiene regulations remain in place.

Tomaree Business Chamber president Leah Anderson said that with travel restrictions still in place, many small businesses would remain dependent on locals for support.

"While many are excited to be opening their doors again to the public, some businesses may need to wait for the government's stage two or three easing of restrictions."

BUSY: Evviva Cafe and Bar in Nelson Bay have been busy with takeaway orders but are now seating customers.

BUSY: Evviva Cafe and Bar in Nelson Bay have been busy with takeaway orders but are now seating customers.

She said that the chamber would be working closely with organisations such as Port Stephens Council [seeking grants] and Destination Port Stephens to embark on a new campaign to re-activate the business sector.

"It's not just the tourist operators who benefit from visitors, there are a range of retail and service providers who rely on visitors so it is imperative that we work together as Port Stephens reopens for business," Ms Anderson said.

The Examiner met with a range of business owners in the Bay town centre on their first day back in the fold, all of whom expressed relief in being able to welcome customers into their stores and appreciation for the federal government's JobKeeper program, which provided financial assistance to staff during the lockdown.

Evviva owners Tammy Kelly and Melissa Stewart summed up the feeling of many cafe/restaurant owners when they said: "We have very much appreciated the support of locals throughout this period [of serving takeaways], but we miss the personal contact with customers and the conversations."

YUM: Schnitzels are back on the menu at Seabreeze Hotel in Nelson Bay. Pictured is chef Jessie Inskip plating up a meal on May 15, when the hotel opened it doors back up to the public.

YUM: Schnitzels are back on the menu at Seabreeze Hotel in Nelson Bay. Pictured is chef Jessie Inskip plating up a meal on May 15, when the hotel opened it doors back up to the public.

"While business has been consistent over the past eight weeks, it has not been easy. We have missed the visitor walk-ins and catering for the many functions at this time of the year," Ms Kelly said.

"It's an enormous relief to know that we have managed to make it this far ... there have been some lesson learned, including means of becoming more financially viable and adjusting to change."

Ms Kelly said that the 10 person limit was enough to "get us back on our feet and we look forward to further easing of restrictions in the weeks ahead".

At the nearby Seabreeze Hotel, general manager Toni Wright could hardly hold back her excitement as she opened the doors to the restaurant for the first time in eight weeks and welcomed in patrons for sit-down meals.

"It was quite pleasing this morning to see signs of life back in the Bay. I am confident that over time things will slowly get back to some form of normality," she said.

Ms Wright said that as a business specialising in hospitality and accommodation, the popular Nelson Bay establishment had felt the full brunt of forced closures caused by COVID-19.

"The hotel is a major sponsor of Sail Port Stephens so its cancellation in April had a huge impact on the business.

She said that management had utilised the time to undertake general maintenance from top to bottom of the premises, including painting, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and furniture.

Trina Affleck, owner of Pizazz Boutique in the heart of Nelson Bay's town centre, said there was no greater sight than seeing customers walk through the doors again after a two-month absence.

"Our staff have been eagerly awaiting for this day and now it's here. We have complied with all the restrictions, quarantined the stock and ensured that our customers can wander into a clean, safe environment," she said.

Ms Affleck said that the store had reopened with many discounted items and that hours had been reduced to 10-3, "but we will be open seven days a week".

There was also some sense of normality for outdoor family life with the removal on Friday by Port Stephens Council staff of bunting and barriers which had closed off children's playgrounds, allowing kids the freedom to enjoy the outdoors again.

Despite the wintry conditions and light rain, many young parents took advantage of the lifting of restrictions by spending time in parks and at the playground equipment located alongside the foreshore.

EXCITED: Sandro Demar, 6, was happy to be able to use the swings at Nelson Bay foreshore playground when it reopened to the public on May 15.

EXCITED: Sandro Demar, 6, was happy to be able to use the swings at Nelson Bay foreshore playground when it reopened to the public on May 15.

Nelson Bay's Antonella Demar was one such mum enjoying the outdoors, while her six-year-old son Sandro blissfully played on the swings.

"The isolation has been very tough for many families, we are fortunate that my husband is still working, also we are spending less money," she said.

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