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Shops reopening with hope after lockdown gloom

Local

As Adelaide stores begin to emerge from COVID-19 hibernation, retailers and landlords are cautiously negotiating the damage wreaked by virus restrictions.

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Their uncertain futures are prompting Business SA and commercial property owners to urge shoppers and local governments to step up and avoid “cleaning up the carnage of a decimated small business sector later this year”.

More retailers were opening their doors around the city yesterday, from Saba and Carla Zampatti at Burnside Village, to Cotton On and Mecca at Westfield Marion shopping centre.

Cibo coffee was seeing trade pick up at Marion too, with reports of owners preparing nearby closed shops to open again next week.

Marion Shopping Centre, Thursday May 7. Photo: Belinda Willis/InDaily

But some high-profile brands will stay closed. Popular Matt Blatt furniture stores shut showrooms and online trading nationally a few weeks ago, including the store on Morphett Street, auctioning the last of its floor stock online.

While Target is closing three stores nationally – including at Pasadena Green shopping centre on May 30, with its 10 staff shifted to other sites – the retailer says the closures are not linked to the virus.

On Norwood Parade, Parade Central owner Mario Boscaini said the complex with nine cinema screens and 22 tenants including restaurants, Endota Spa, Silk Laser Clinic and fashion stores had all been closed with virus trading restrictions.

Some food premises were selling takeaway, while men’s clothing store Gazman recently opened with restricted hours.

Endota Spa started trading in the lead up to Mother’s Day to sell products and gift cards, but its main business of massages and facials is still off limits.

Boscaini said the return to trading was haphazard, but what concerned him more was the uneven distribution of government support as businesses struggled with the COVID-19 tsunami.

He claimed retailers and employees were receiving more attention from state and local governments, while landlords negotiating with tenants struggling with changed market conditions were being ignored.

Boscaini, also a member of the Norwood Parade Precinct committee, has written to every member of state parliament along with the local government association calling for better support.

There were no changes to rates or emergency service levies for landlords in Norwood, he said, and the state government’s 25 per cent reduction on the 2019-20 land tax liability on affected properties was not helping.

However, on Friday the Norwood, Payneham and St Peters council said it had endorsed a discretionary rebate for eligible non-residential property owner who could prove financial hardship from the pandemic.

The council said commercial property owners and non-residential owners such as RSLs and service clubs could apply for a rebate of the 20 per cent differential for the fourth quarter.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said landlords would be required to pass on the full benefit of the $50m in land tax relief to tenants impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

“We face our own challenges as well, but it appears the government is not interested to take those matters up and work with landowners,” he said.

“We clearly need to support each other, but it shouldn’t just be one sided.”

Boscaini said the responses from state government had been “we’ll take that up”, while the local government association was leaving it to individual councils to decide on their own rate relief responses.

“Everyone is in the same boat, that’s why everyone needs to take some of the load,” he said.

Norwood, Payneham and St Peters Council has refunded the June quarter outdoor dining permit fee, but Boscaini said promises to defer rates would not help in the long run.

Business SA chief Martin Haese backed the call for more local government help, saying both tenants and landlords needed more support.

Only two local councils, Wakefield and Prospect, have agreed to calls for a three-month waiver rather than deferral of commercial property rates.

“It’s almost better to overshoot the mark now rather than be cleaning up the carnage of a decimated small business sector later this year,” Haese said.

The most recent Business SA survey of 500 respondents showed that 52 per cent of small businesses in retail, accommodation and food believed they would not survive another three months of restrictions.

That’s why the association has launched a Buy Local to Save Your Local campaign (below), with Haese warning there was a small window of survival for those hardest hit.

In the city’s premier Rundle Mall shopping precinct, general manager Johanna Williams said news that restrictions were being reviewed by the state and federal government gave retailers the confidence to reopen doors this week, with many more to follow next week.

“Some stores are checking shoppers’ temperature and asking them to apply hand sanitiser before entering, and many are accepting card payments only,” she said.

“Over the past week or so the mood in the Mall has shifted from meeting essential needs to one of relief and optimism to begin wider shopping again after weeks of the necessary distancing, and we expect that positive sentiment will grow as South Australians regain the confidence to venture out.”

Stores that have returned this week include Apple, Dymocks, Foot Locker, Hype DC, Dr Martens, Seed Heritage, Oxford, Lovisa and a range of others.

Rundle Mall Authority chairperson Peter Joy said returning shoppers would help re-start the economy.

“The retail sector has been amongst those hardest hit by the pandemic, so having some of Rundle Mall’s key brands reopening is good news for the economy – it gives others the confidence to follow,” he said.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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