Cafe just hanging in there


As Balclutha braces for Covid› 19’s arrival, schools, businesses and hospitality, in particular, are wondering how much longer the ordeal must be endured.

Maureen Martin has been running Cafe 55 for three years and said trade was down ‘‘at least 50%’’.

Staff were working shorter weeks and daily hours and, although wage subsidies had been taken in the past, her staff was down from eight to three.

‘‘Being shut for weeks hurt. Our people saw the writing on the wall and started making their own plans and when staff left we didn’t replace them,’’ Mrs Martin said.

‘‘Small business never makes huge money but we’re more about being here for our team and our customers. We were doing nicely enough pre›Covid, but now we’re only getting by on good, loyal, local support. So many things are being cancelled, no events means no travellers. We need the tourists and travellers.’’ Mrs Martin said she felt something was ‘‘very wrong’’, pointing out while pandemic restrictions were drastically reducing income, the cost of rates, fuel, and food supplies was rapidly increasing.

‘‘You can’t plan, it’s so stressful. We’re fully vaxxed. We thought we’d get double›vaxxed and get back to normal, wasn’t that what was promised? Then there’s Delta and Omicron, now there’s news of another variant. When’s it going to end? We’ll keep coping as long as we’re just breaking even, but there’s no fall›back plan.’’

The Otago Daily Times last week followed Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult’s pursuit of assistance for the sector from Tourism Minister Stuart Nash, and Clutha businesses wanted an opportunity to speak up for those outside Queenstown and Auckland who were also struggling to stay open.

Kirsty Collier, co›owner of Balclutha’s Heart & Soul Cafe, said things were ‘‘thriving for the first three months before the second lockdown’’ but she now retained staff by working on site week›about with co›owner Debbie Kinder, and spending each second week on a dairy farm.

‘‘We’re actually overstaffed, but don’t want to cut back.’’

Mrs Collier said vaccine passports and mandates did ‘‘make it hard’’.

‘‘When vax passports became manda› tory a lot of people said, ‘This is the last time I’ll be in’. We’re not anti›vax, we got vaxxed for business but the vax pass feels contradictory.

‘‘People don’t have to be vaxxed to walk around the supermarket with a hundred other people but they have to show a passport to sit in a cafe.’’

‘‘Apparently vaxxed people can still be contagious. As soon as we have a close contact, even just a customer, that’s the doors closed and the team down.’’

She said she felt stress levels were elevated and people were ‘‘divided’’.

‘‘We’re easily down at least 40%. It’s huge pressure on us financially and on the girls.’’

Mrs Martin and Mrs Collier made clear their gratitude tolocal loyalty and their determination to keep working for it — and their consideration of government assistance.