AFL Grand Final eve public holiday “still stupid”, say some, but businesses look to silver linings

Richmond Tigers AFL

The Richmond Tigers during the second qualifying final between the Geelong Cats on Friday, September 8, 2017. Source: AAP/Julian Smith.

Next Friday will be the third time Victoria has celebrated the eve of the AFL Grand Final with a public holiday, and while business groups still say the government is yet to prove the holiday’s value, there are plenty of operators trying to make the most of it.

Last year, the Victorian Employer’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry released statistics that showed when the holiday was first observed in 2015, 74% of businesses in the state did not open.

Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong says the holiday is “still stupid” and believes the Daniel Andrews-led state government has not shown exactly how the day benefits all businesses, including those outside of the major city hubs.

“We still need to see the evidence that it’s good for people,” he says.

Across Melbourne, businesses are once again trying to capitalise however they can on the long weekend, with iconic venues like Richmond’s The Corner Hotel offering “Grand Final Eve” events to capture customers on Friday, September 29.

Some business owners see both the challenge and the opportunity presented by the public holiday.

Owner of Richmond’s On the Spot Drycleaning, George Vamvakitis, tells SmartCompany his small business will “overlook the business side” of the public holiday, given the buzz on Bridge Road due to hopes the Richmond Tigers will make the final.

Vamvakitis says he decided to close On the Spot during the Grand Final eve holiday over the past two years, and the business will do the same again this year.

While that’s the right decision in terms of how much it will cost to stay open, Vamvakitis says the long weekend “does put pressure on”.

However, he sees two silver linings to the prospect of the holiday, and the Grand Final event overall.

“My brother [who I run the business with] and I work pretty long hours, [so] any time we can spend time with the family [by closing on Friday],” he says. 

Then there’s the enthusiasm that the footy has generated in Richmond this year, as supporters get out and show the love for the Tigers; he’s never seen more energy on the popular shopping strip.

It’s fantastic, everyone’s just talking about Richmond. It’s Tiger time!” 

Businesses in Melbourne’s Western suburbs reported similar energy levels last year, as local coffee shops, pubs and pie businesses all showed their support to the Western Bulldogs ahead of their premiership win.

This will also be the first public holiday in the state where the new penalty rate loading rules will apply.

While Strong welcomes this, he says there’s still a challenges for many businesses, because the public holiday will likely only generate more foot traffic for those in certain parts of the CBD.

“The government is essentially pushing people [shoppers] to a certain spot,” he says.

Strong reminds businesses that if they occupy space in a large shopping centre or venue and their landlords are compelling them to open on the Friday holiday, they should contact the state’s small business commissioner for advice.

He says while landlords say they will not force businesses to open on the day, history shows “we know that’s not true” in reality.

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