Saturday, November 28, 2020
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NSW venues split on $100 voucher scheme to boost business in the pandemic

NSW venues split on $100 voucher scheme to boost business in the pandemic
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As Christmas nears, the NSW Government is gifting every adult $100 in vouchers to use on food and entertainment as part of an economic stimulus scheme announced today.

Four vouchers worth $25 will be available on the Service NSW mobile app, in a key measure of the NSW Budget aimed at encouraging Sydneysiders to reopen their wallets to help lift the state out of its $16 billion debt.

But some businesses are split on whether they’ll sign up to accept the scheme, even though demand for goods and services fell more in NSW than in any other state during the pandemic, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The vouchers will aim to help businesses through a post-Christmas slump.(ABC: Brendan Esposito)

Audrey Reyes is the cook at Meraki Merchants in Parramatta and started working there in January.

She says the cafe’s loyal base of regulars have kept them afloat.

“Even so, people were scared to come out, so we had a drive-through service for a while,” she says.

“If we hadn’t had that, I’m not sure we would have pulled through.

“Right now, it’s still quiet.”

But her boss, owner Toufick Chami, doesn’t think he’ll be signing up to the voucher scheme.

A youngish man smiling in a cafe.
Toufick Chami feels the government’s voucher scheme would undermine his cafe’s culture.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

“We’re not a restaurant, we’re a very community-focused place where everyone knows each other,” he says.

“I don’t want someone to come in just because of the voucher so they can get cheaper food. I don’t want it to be about the economics.

Mr Chami says that while voucher scheme isn’t suited to his cafe, it would help businesses in the Parramatta CBD that have been really decimated.

“This would really help people on Church Street. It’s terrible, it’s a ghost town — those businesses definitely need big incentives.”

‘People need confidence’

Mohammed Baig and his wife Sadia run an Indian take-away restaurant, Copper Handi, inside a plaza off Church Street.

A couple standing in a restaurant kitchen.
Mohammed and Sadia Baig have lost 70 per cent of their business from the pandemic.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

They’ve had their business there for four years; COVID-19 has seen all the restaurants in the food court lose 70 per cent of their business this year.

They’re desperate for more foot traffic.

“You can see there’s no customers. Before, [from] 11.30am till 2:00pm, this was fully packed. Right now, the whole mall is just empty,” he said.

He said he’ll sign up to scheme once the trial completes in the Sydney CBD.

“Definitely I support it, people need some confidence and money to spend as they’re quite scared. Any incentive is good.”

An empty Indian outlet at a food court.
Copper Handi often used to be busy at lunch period but now sits empty.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

The Out and About voucher scheme, which will cost $500 million, will be trialled next month in Sydney’s CBD before spreading to other parts of the state.

Bill & Toni’s, an Italian joint in Darlinghurst, will be one of the restaurants in the initial trial.

Claude Tropea, the general manager, is supportive of the scheme in the lead-up to the holiday period.

A man smiling in an Italian restaurant.
Claude Tropea of Bill & Toni’s thinks the vouchers will be a great incentive.(ABC News: Timothy Swanston)

“I think it will help us fill our bookings up going into the Christmas period, and hoping with the announcement it’ll be a busy Christmas as usual,” he said.

“People want to go out. It seems the government is doing the right thing for small business and encouraging people to spend their money.

“I think it’s a great start.”

Entertainment boost

In regional areas, opinions also differ as life returns to normal.

Coffs Harbour hotelier Harry Barry said his seven pubs have picked back up in foot traffic, and he’s keen for easing restrictions to serve the holiday surge.

Publican Harry Barry said the better stimulus for him will be when capacity for venues is lifted.
Publican Harry Barry said the better stimulus for him will be when capacity for venues is lifted.(ABC Coffs Harbour: Claudia Jambor)

“Really, the next step on our road to recovery will be when the government says that the capacity numbers are lifted above 300,” he said.

Two of the vouchers can be used on food at restaurants, cafes and clubs while the other two can be used for entertainment activities, such theatres and cinemas.

For live-entertainment company owner John Logan, the scheme is a blessing.

“I’ll take the money every day of the week and we desperately need it,” he said.

He staged a show with Australian music stalwart Wendy Matthews in Coffs Harbour just over a week ago, and was surprised it wasn’t a sell-out.

“People are not rushing out to buy tickets like we thought they would,” he said.

“[But] the more we put on, the more people will get used to it and the more confident they will feel.”



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