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Local Businesses Hit The Hip Pocket as Omicron Impact Felt

Sale businesses struggle to stay afloat as the Omicron wave swells COVID cases to an all-time high, washing widespread fear and trepidation throughout the local community.

Craig and Marianne Caddy; Best Western Aspen Proprietors

Since the pandemic's beginning, many Sale businesses have spent the past 20 months fighting to stay open with the reoccurring lockdowns, continuously changing restrictions and travel limitations.

Best Western Aspen and Apartment proprietors Craig and Marianne Caddy revealed that they have chewed through all their savings since the pandemic's beginning.

"If it weren't for our landlord, our doors would be shut," said Ms Caddy.

"Yes, we were very fortunate with our landlord. He took a hit. We took a hit," Mr Caddy added.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the relaxation of restrictions generated an influx of tourism and consumer demand, sparking hope for local businesses.

"By Christmas, we were completely booked out for over three months," Mr Caddy proclaimed.

But just as the return to normality seemed plausible, disaster struck, another COVID variant emerged, Omicron, and within the blink of an eye, Sale businesses were under pressure once again.

"We are getting so many cancellations, and they are all because of COVID," said Mr Caddy.

"This week, we lost $10,000 worth of accommodation in one day."

For Mr and Mrs Caddy, the uncertainty of the effects the current wave of COVID will have on business is frightening. Generally, Best Western Aspen and Apartments would be booked out at this time of year, and they were, but as fear increases in the community and case numbers skyrocket, there is only a handful of rooms filled.

"We aren't sure if we are going to be able to afford staff next week," says Mr Caddy.

Down the road at the Comfort Inn, owner Dianna Radjenovic is preparing to sell as the pressures from Omicron tip the business over the edge.

"We just can't cope," said Ms Radjenovic.

Pre-COVID, the Comfort Inn was averaging anywhere between 80-100 per cent capacity at this time of year, and now, Ms Radjenovic says they aren't even at 50 per cent.

"It's just getting worse," says Ms Radjenovic.

"We keep getting up every morning, hoping it will get better, but it's not."

"People are cancelling because of COVID, and we can't charge them, so we are making no money," says Radjenovic, "It's crazy; our bills are huge because of the size of the property, we are still paying $30,000 a month to the landlords, and there is no business coming in."

"It's affecting everyone, I just want to start looking forward to the future again, but I can't."

As tourism plunges and community apprehension ascends, the streets of Sale are eerily quiet, and the local hospitality patronage is sparse.

The owner of The Dock Espresso Bar, Luke Goldsmith, shares concerns about the effects of the COVID Omicron variant running rampant across Victoria.

"The hospitality industry is struggling for labour and struggling for supply," says Mr Goldsmith, "and we have seen a downturn in people moving and travelling and going out."

"I think there is fear of having to isolate, so people are now starting to think, do I really need that coffee, is getting this coffee potentially going to put me into a seven-day lockdown."

Pre-COVID, local cafe Wild Honey would be at its peak trading period. However, owner Karen Kiefer admits that it's quieter than previous COVID summers.

"It's just so inconsistent, one day we will be busy, and it's great, but the next, there is no one on the street, no one in the shops, there's nothing," she says.

As Sale's tourism and hospitality businesses face the brunt of Omicron's damaging impacts, Ranford's Family Butcher is profiting.

With national supply chain and distribution shortages, causing deficiencies in fresh produce, meat and poultry for grocer giants Coles and Woolworths, Ranford's Family Butcher is receiving an influx of customers.

Owner of Ranford's Family Butcher, Brayden Ranford, reveals, unlike Coles and Woolworths, the business isn't facing any issues in obtaining stock, nor are they experiencing any shortages of produce.

"Because all our meat is local, we aren't having any issues with getting stock, not like Coles and Woolworths who don't sell local meat, " says owner Brayden Ranford.

Despite the increase in meat prices as local abattoirs face staff shortages due to COVID, Ranford's Family Butcher is still seeing a rise in its number of customers.

Mr Ranford's wife compared the current climate to the beginning of COVID in 2020.

"At the very start of COVID, we had an increase in customers when everyone started panic buying, and there wasn't anything left in the supermarkets," said Mrs Ranford, "and it's like that again now."

Ranford's Family Butchers are 'one of the lucky ones' as hundreds of businesses in Sale and across Gippsland find themselves on the chopping block once again, struggling to make ends meet.


Story available on the Gippsland Times Website :

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