Small businesses in the Byron Bay region say the cancellation of the iconic Bluesfest, which attracts a crowd of 15,000 people, will significantly affect businesses over the peak Easter trading period.
Owner of the Tintenbar Teahouse and Ballina Shire Councillor Keith Williams says “it’s the uncertainty” that hurts businesses most.
“We knew a couple of days ago that there had been some local transmission,” Williams tells SmartCompany.
“We knew the state government was going to respond, and, basically, we all just sat here for the last two days, wondering what level of restrictions we were going to get,” he says.
Festival stall holders and local hospitality, retail and accommodation operators all learnt that the Byron Bay Bluesfest was cancelled for the second consecutive year due to the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday afternoon.
The announcement came after New South Wales Minister for Health Brad Hazzard signed a public health order, cancelling the planned Bluesfest and reimposing certain restrictions.
“Every business in this area looks forward to the Bluesfest crowds arriving. It’s a huge boost to us this time of year,” Williams says.
Williams says that for a lot of businesses, the sudden introduction of the four-square-metre rule will make it very hard “to balance staffing costs and getting food purchases right”.
“That strict imposition of the four-square-metre rule really hits smaller cafes hard,” he says.
Along with the requirement for hospitality venues to ensure there are 4m² for each person, all patrons must be seated.
The state government also made mask wearing mandatory in retail environments.
Williams says the timing could not be worse.
Not only is he still repairing flood damage in his cafe from the previous weekend, he continued to receive JobKeeper until the program ended on Sunday.
“It feels like we’ve had the triple whammy this weekend, where we’re still dealing with flood impacts, we’ve lost JobKeeper and now we’ve got a COVID-19 cluster,” he says.
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A blow to festival stall holders
For Michael Collins, co-owner of Rock and Roll Coffee Company in Mullumbimby, the question is whether he will trade over the Easter weekend.
“We’re quite concerned whether or not we will stay open because from what we can tell the business will most likely run at a loss if we do open,” Collins tells SmartCompany.
Collins says while the cancellation of Bluesfest “is inconvenient”, he’s more worried about the affect it will have on festival stall holders.
“I think it’s going to hit some of those stall holders very hard,” he says.
“They’ve invested a lot of money into this weekend. For us, we’re a bit luckier, we can close the doors and manage our losses.”
This year, Bluesfest was set to be a major event in Australia’s live music calendar with names such as Ash Brunwald, Hiatus Kaiyote, Jeff Lang, Jimmy Barnes and John Butler all featuring on the line up.
The director of the festival, Peter Noble, urged ticket holders not to come to the festival site in a statement on Wednesday.
Noble said announcing the festival was cancelled for a second year in a row was “one of the most difficult statements [he had] ever had to make”.
“We really wanted to be at the forefront of the return of live music at Pre-COVID-19 level,” he said.