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‘Better not to think about it’: How a Sydney high street is faring in lockdown

“After that it’s scary,” he says. “It’s better not to think about it.”

A local café called Goodbye Horses closed down earlier this month and the barista at a competitor around the corner says takings have dropped 50 per cent since lockdown. The switch to takeaways has hurt larger cafés which rely heavily on weekend spending by customers who sit down for brunches and lunches.

But it’s not all bad news. Those selling fresh food and groceries are still busy.

Richard Ghalie from Summer Hill Fruit Shop.

Richard Ghalie from Summer Hill Fruit Shop.Credit:Photo: Steven Siewert

“We’re doing OK,” says Richard Ghalie, from the Summer Hill Village Fruit Shop.

“People are cooking more at home, so they need plenty of fruit and vegetables,” he says. “Our flowers are also popular because people are spending so much time indoors.”

There’s a constant stream of customers in and out of the local IGA supermarket.

Summer Hill Wine Shop has also sailed through the lockdown unscathed.

“We haven’t really been impacted,” says owner Rodney Yarad. “But just about everyone else here has.”

Several Summer Hill store owners told The Herald their businesses have not been operating long enough to qualify for government support.

“I couldn’t demonstrate downturn,” says Rob Price who opened Mad Wholefoods in Summer Hill just after last year’s lockdown. “I thought there might be something for people like us.”

Other business owners say applying for emergency government grants has been more cumbersome than during last year’s disruptions and the distribution of support has been slow.

“There’s a lot of red tape this time around which makes it more difficult to get support,” says Tess Robens, whose bar takings are down 70 per cent since being forced to switch to takeaway drinks and food.

Tess Robens, owner of Summer Hill’s Rio bar

Tess Robens, owner of Summer Hill’s Rio barCredit:Photo: Steven Siewert

Ms Robens has just received her first JobSaver payment from the NSW government but is still waiting on another grant.

“I’m borrowing off my parents to keep things going and pay the staff,” she says.

Some Summer Hill shop owners have pivoted to online trading, but it has not made up for the passing trade from the nearby railway station.

Tabitha Zeppieri, who owns the Smith Street Traders gift shop, says online purchases have allowed her to maintain about 15 per cent of her normal revenue despite having to close her doors.

She waited seven weeks before receiving a $15,000 government grant, but it has not been enough to offset her losses.

“That doesn’t go very far,” says Zeppieri. “We’ve started taking money out of our mortgage to help cover rent and bills.”

The lockdown has encouraged some local firms to collaborate. Mad Wholefoods for instance is providing ingredients for Father’s Day hampers on sale at the nearby Rio Bar.

“There’s a strong community in Summer Hill and a lot of the businesses do try and help each other,” says Rob Price.

But Mr Yarad, who has been trading in Summer Hill for almost 25 years, fears the pandemic is permanently altering the high street. Some stores closed after last year’s lockdown and now more are on the brink.

“I don’t think a lot of business around here will come back from this,” says Yarad.

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