Owaka shop owners and businesses not giving up



The township of Owaka will likely bear the brunt of Clutha’s post Covid-19 economic challenges, as many of the community’s businesses depend on tourism.

But the business owners are not willing to go down without a fight.

“You can’t just give up,” Clutha district councillor Dave Catherwood said.

“It’s going to be tough, but it is survivable.”

Mr Catherwood is also an Owaka resident and business owner, of the Catlins Country Store and the Bakehouse Gallery.

With tourism restricted to domestic travellers for the near future, Mr Catherwood said small businesses would have to think about operating on a reduced schedule.

He questioned whether businesses would be able to sustain being open seven days per week.

“It might be a situation of only trading on the weekends, long weekends and holidays,” he said.

“Because the domestic travellers will have to go back to work on the Monday.”

A firm that knew the realities of a tourist downturn well was the Catlins Cafe.

Chef Tacal Wang said the cafe was always quiet during the winter.

“In winter we’re not earning any money,” Mr Wang said.

“Just trying our best to keep even. And using the summer money to keep the balance.”

The chef said since opening post-lockdown he could tell from the frequency of orders how much throughput had fallen beyond the usual winter decline.

“We’ve definitely lost more than 50%.”

He said it was months since he had seen any tourist buses, the passengers of which often stopped for coffees, causing a welcome rush.

Closing the border had compounded a problem that started with the Australian bush fires late last year.

“Most of the European travellers go to Australia first, then to New Zealand and down to the Catlins,” Mr Wang said.

But when the fires began raging in Australia, tourist numbers to Owaka dwindled as well.

This meant the cafe could not gather the substantial summer financial buffer usually needed to get through the winter.

Mr Wang said continuing government aid could tide them through for some time, but he was uncertain what would happen next.

At the Gevadi Gems and Jewellery store, owner Connie van Alten was philosophical about the situation.

In keeping with her Buddhist practice, Ms van Alten said there was “no point worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet”.

Lockdown had come as a relief, as she felt her business would be particularly prone to passing on the coronavirus.

“I completely agree with what Jacinda Ardern did,” she said.

“I kind of quite enjoyed it, and because it was at the end of the season I don’t worry about the financial side too much.”