He estimates sales are about a third of what they should be at this time of year. The situation is similar for other businesses in Mansfield, which is suffering from a major downturn even though it has been spared the wrath of the flames directly.
Mr Wallis, who supplies meat to other businesses and sells directly to the public, said a busy January was crucial in the town as its economy depends heavily on visitors.
“You try to make the money to get through next month.”
The signs were promising as the summer holidays began and by Christmas “there were people everywhere”.
But as the catastrophic scale of fires became clear and the Victorian government declared a state of disaster on January 3, business came to an abrupt halt.
“It was dead quiet.”
Modelling commissioned by Tourism North East has found the broader region could lose up to $200 million in the first quarter of this year under a worst-case scenario.
The regional tourism board also conducted a survey of 200 tourism-dependent businesses in the north-east, which found half of them experienced losses of 100 per cent between January 2 and 9. Another quarter of operators reported losses of more than 75 per cent.
Tourism North East said on Thursday that bushfires and smoke were still impacting areas of the Alpine National Park, Mount Buffalo and the upper Murray but maintained many towns and villages had not been directly affected.
The tourism body issued a “qualified invitation to visitors to return to the High Country”.
Delatite Hotel owner Dean Belle estimated demand for accommodation at his Mansfield business had fallen by 80 per cent recently because of the fires.
Mr Belle, who also owns the nearby produce store, said his businesses were down by up to 45 per cent this month.
He insisted Mansfield was currently safe and urged people to come. Mr Belle said extra activities were being scheduled to attract visitors, including live music and scavenger hunts, “so when people do come there’s a real sense of positive energy”.
Although the Mansfield township has not come under direct threat from the fires, the broader local council area was included in the state of disaster, which was lifted days ago.
On Thursday, Mansfield Shire mayor Marg Attley said the township was safe but stressed anyone intending to visit should check safety warnings and fire bans.
“It’s safe right now but people should be alert to the warnings,” she said. “We do encourage people to come back and take up their bookings. It’s important to keep this the vibrant community it always is.”
At the Mansfield Travellers Lodge and Backpackers, business has declined by up to 80 per cent due to the fires.
Business owner Kerry Simpson said Mansfield was extremely quiet compared to this time last year. “And everyone is saying the same thing,” she said.
“Hopefully down the track the picture starts to brighten up again.”
Co-owner Ken Everett said international guests had also cancelled bookings, including a group of 16 from New Zealand.
He said there were visitors who had scrapped their holidays because the activities they had planned in the region could no longer go ahead such as trail rides.
“We have lost a fair amount of business and we’ve given refunds back to people. It’s not their fault they can’t come,” he said.
Mr Everett said the town would need government support to bring visitors back later in the year. “I think it’s going to take a major amount of advertising,” he said. “People are starting to say we need the tourists to come back.”
Premier Daniel Andrews has called on Victorians to defer or postpone travelling to bushfire affected areas rather than cancelling their trips altogether. He said his government was working on a support package for businesses hurt by the fires.
A spokesman for the state government said people who wanted to help their fellow Victorians should go to areas where they could travel safely.
“We will be launching advertising that supports that message,” he said. “The campaign will be updated as bushfire conditions change and places that are currently closed off can once again put out the welcome mat.”
Benjamin is a state political reporter