Trade has plummeted in Sydney as restaurants stay shut and shoppers stay home, but delays to rent relief and government assistance are putting many businesses at risk.

Key points:

  • Small businesses report massive losses, with some saying revenue has dropped by up to 90 per cent
  • Without rent relief and government assistance some fear they will not survive the ongoing NSW lockdown
  • NSW Labor is calling for rent relief to be brought back to help struggling businesses  

On Saturday alone, $21 million worth of requests for financial support were lodged and there are more than 60,000 businesses waiting to have their applications processed, according to NSW Labor.

One butcher on a main road in Lansvale, in Sydney’s south-west, says business has dropped by 90 per cent. 

“Right now, I’m doing stuff-all,” he said.

“We’re on the Hume Highway — a lot of our business comes off that road, [but] Fairfield’s closed so now all of a sudden there’s nothing coming up the road.”

The butcher doesn’t want to be identified, but at 78 this is a tough time of life to be dealing with a pandemic and all the restrictions it imposes on businesses. 

It is not just his retail shop that is affected — he has lost his wholesale business as well.

“It restricted us doing deliveries because we don’t want to get pulled up or get tested every three days,” he said.

Gourmet sausages at butcher shop, no prices

One butcher has lost 90 per cent of his street trade due to the lockown and all of his wholesale business due to restaurant and pub closures.(

ABC News: Bec Whetham

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Like many businesses operating on reduced income, he said it was difficult to earn enough to pay the bills, let alone wages.

He said he had no choice but to lay off his staff and now was keeping the retail side going with help from his family.

Customers scared away

Over in Redfern, fruit and vegetable seller Rami Srour had to shut down his retail shop for a deep clean when a staff member living in a hotspot area tested positive to COVID-19.

The clean cost him $1,000 and his street trade dropped by 40 per cent overnight.

two women pushing a trolley doing shopping at a fuit shop

Food businesses are reporting massive drops in income as COVID contact site scares keep shoppers away.(

ABC News: Mridula Amin 

)

Mr Srour supplies clubs, pubs and restaurants and wholesaling makes up 70 per cent of his business, but they are all closed across Greater Sydney.

“We do a lot of wholesaling and that’s all gone now, I’ve got four or five customers left,” he said.

He says he is losing $2,000 per week.

Like many small businesses he applied for government support but after two weeks he still hasn’t had a decision. 

Businesses need rent relief

The manager of a chicken shop in Fairfield says he is losing money too, as customers stay away from shopping malls like the one in which his store is located, which has been listed as a contact site.

He pays $3,500 per week in rent and has requested some relief from the shopping centre manager. 

He said he had applied for government assistance but had not received a response. 

‘People are very anxious’

Sabrini Foods is one of Australia’s biggest importers of Indian food and general manager Mukesh Pahwa said the company had managed reasonably well through previous lockdowns, but this one was different.

Three dishes of Indian food,

Sabrini Foods general manager Mukesh Pahwa says he is hoping for a big bounce back in demand for Indian cuisine after the lockdown.(

Supplied: Sabrini Foods

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“Even the takeaway business is reduced from restaurants, people are hesitant about whether they are getting hygienic product served. They’re not sure about their JobKeeper/JobSeeker allowances, and people are very anxious about how fast it’s spreading,” Mr Pahwa said.

With the COVID-19 infection numbers staying stubbornly high, no-one knows how long this lockdown will last but Mr Pahwa is hoping for a big bounce back when it ends.

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More staff put on to process applications

Service NSW conceded that some people have been waiting a number of weeks for a response to their grant applications.

Chief executive Damon Rees said the government’s service centre received a large number of applications when the latest lockdown started and have had to employ more people to process them.

“About 500 people are now working on those applications for one-off grants under the NSW Business Grant program,” Mr Rees said.

“[About] 125,000 applications have come through so far and 76,000 have been processed.”

He says the waiting time is now about four to eight days for new applications.

The NSW Government is providing micro-grants for small businesses turning over $75,000. So far, they have received 28,000 applications for the money.

About 22,000 applications have been approved, 1,100 declined, and another 4,500 are still in discussion.

There are also grants for larger businesses, and 8,000 Jobsaver applications remain outstanding.

Rent assistance

The NSW government is also re-introducing the National Cabinet’s Mandatory Code of Conduct for Commercial Leasing to mandate rent relief for eligible tenants impacted by COVID-19.

A new $40 million Hardship Fund will also be established to provide a monthly grant of up to $3,000 for small commercial or retail landlords who provide rental waivers of at least the value of the grant and any land tax relief they are eligible for.

The Retail and Other Commercial Leases (COVID-19) Regulation 2021 will be extended until January 13, 2022 to provide protection for small businesses such as cafes, restaurants, hair salons and gyms for six months.

The money aims to ensure landlords pass on rental relief to tenants.

Under the Code of Conduct, landlords are required to provide rent relief with at least half in the form a waiver, and the balance as a deferral.

Eligible commercial landowners can apply for relief on up to 100 per cent of their land tax liability for 2021. 

Posted , updated 

Food businesses starved of help as Sydney’s lockdown takes toll
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