Essential or not? Small retailers in NSW left confused over COVID-19 rules


Joanne Pagano, owner of Made to Wear Boutique in Rozelle, Sydney. Source: Supplied.

Small retailers trading amid an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in New South Wales are confused about whether they can open, as major retailers such as Harvey Norman and David Jones are allowing customers to enter their stores.

Small businesses were hit with new coronavirus restrictions on Saturday, after the Premier Gladys Berejiklian expanded COVID-19 restrictions to Greater Sydney, the Central Coast, the Blue Mountains and Wollongong.

Under the restrictions, businesses in Greater Sydney that provide ‘essential goods and services’ are permitted to remain open.

However, NSW health authorities have not published what they consider essential goods or services to be. Instead, authorities have released a list of more than 15 types of businesses that are not considered essential, such as strip clubs, hairdressers and cinemas.

Joanne Pagano, owner of Made to Wear Boutique in Rozelle, says it was unclear to her whether her shop could open to customers when the restrictions were first announced.

“I basically learnt I could open from speaking to other shop owners and I just noticed that other retailers on Darling Street were open,” Pagano tells SmartCompany.

Pagano has operated Made to Wear Boutique for nine years, selling locally designed and made clothing for women aged between 40 to 70 years.

While the store has been open since Monday, there’s a sign on the front window encouraging customers to call ahead of their visit or to order online. Pagano has also advised her staff not to come into work. 

“I have two part-time workers. I’ve told them not to come in this week or next week because I can’t afford to pay them if they’re going to be here, and nobody is going to walk in the door,” she says.

Pagano says she’s most frustrated that the NSW government is giving unclear advice to businesses and the public.

“If you go on the website it does say some retail can open but then the message to the general public is don’t go out unless for essential reasons,” she says.

“You don’t tell the public one thing and business people a different thing.”

The NSW government’s mixed messages have led some small retailers to close while restrictions are enforced.

Many small fashion retailers located on bustling shopping strips from King Street in Newtown to High Street in Paddington have chosen to remain closed.

Meanwhile, larger stores including David Jones, JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman are continuing to open to the public. In fact, David Jones and Harvey Norman were listed as casual contact locations for an active coronavirus case.

NSW Health recorded 22 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm Tuesday night, making the Bondi cluster the state’s largest outbreak since the COVID-19 pandemic began last March.

That restrictions are still being enforced 16 months into the pandemic, leaving businesses confused and reliant on state government assistance has alarmed small business groups.

Alexi Boyd, interim chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), said confusion over essential businesses was one of the biggest issues raised by COSBOA members surveyed for its Small Business Perspective report.

“This is why one of our report’s recommendations was ‘nationally agreed arrangements [on the enforced closure of non-essential businesses] based on evidence that accommodate consultation and provide consistency’,” she said.


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5 months ago

If you DO NOT sell food then you are NOT an essential service. Really people?

4 months ago

There are plenty of non essential businesses open in my area, Five Dock, Wareemba, Concord like florists, homeware shops, jewellery shops, dress shops etc?