Jodi Phillips, owner of Kilmore Florist, says Victoria's fourth and fifth lockdowns have been the toughest.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

Small businesses in regional areas are struggling through what some are calling the most difficult lockdown in Victoria yet, due to complicated eligibility criteria for financial support and reined-in community spending.

Jodi Phillips, owner of Kilmore Florist, a business she took over in July 2019, said despite the length of Victoria’s 2020 lockdown, the nature of her business had changed more this year with Victoria’s fourth and fifth lockdowns hitting her the hardest.

“Last year people knew it was a couple of months, so they would send flowers [for special occasions], but this year they’re waiting because they’re hoping they might be able to see them in person,” she said.

Ms Phillips said this year the business was relying on ‘day to day birthdays’ and drop-in purchases, for which she was having to ensure a fully stocked shop, as larger events were being cancelled or postponed and people were holding off making plans.

“We’ve lost a lot of money in the weddings and engagement events [and] we’re not having the funeral work, which as sad as it seems, we rely on it. Mainly the flowers are going to the home,” she said.

She said widespread government financial support last year meant people had more disposable income and were more free to shop and support non-essential retail businesses.

“Last year we were very busy because everyone had the stimulus packages coming in but this year they’re not getting [anything],” she said.

“Because everyone else was able to get Jobkeeper or Jobseeker there was a lot of money coming in but this year’s been tough.”

Carly Eldredge, owner of Seymour retail business and brand Bezzy Eldo, said shops selling non-essential items were seeing little to no money coming in.

“I have a couple of online orders, but [profit is] nothing,” she said.

“People are trying to help, but people don’t have money either. I’m a luxury business so people spoil themselves if they get a candle or bath bomb … but it’s not high on their priority list.”

“I’ve got invoices for the spring/summer range but I’ve still got winter stuff that I haven’t been able to sell … I’m just hoping it will be a bumper Christmas and I’ll make up what I’ve lost.”

This lockdown, the federal COVID-19 disaster payments have been slightly boosted to $600 per week to people who have lost 20 or more hours of work, up from $500 in the last circuit-breaker lockdown.

The State Government has also added a further $282.5 million to its grant programs, with a total of $484.3 million committed to businesses and sole traders.

Eligible Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund recipients can receive $4200 this time, taking the total payment to $7200, while Business Costs Assistance Program recipients can receive $2800, increasing the total grant to $4800.

The government has paid $180 million to more than 86,000 Victorian businesses eligible for the first five days of the current lockdown.

But Ms Eldredge said she had trouble submitting applications as her myGovID app had crashed, and after getting through via phone she had been told the system was overwhelmed with people trying to register for disaster payments.

“They told me to try at midnight but it was just timing out,” she said.

Ms Phillips said after being rejected for funding last time she had given up applying for any support.

“I have applied, but it just said I was ineligible. I was just knocked back and haven’t heard anything from them. This time I just have decided to not bother,” she said.

“Financial support for small businesses, we need it now, not in three months’ time. Even just to cover some rent or some bills. You can get away with not buying something for yourself, I haven’t done that in ages … it’s just about the essentials for the business.”

Ms Eldredge said she hoped that those with the capacity to spend money on non-essential goods would consider a local business before shopping online.

“I just hope the people will support local business before heading to the big centres [and] discover what’s in their own areas,” she said.

“If people don’t support local, there’ll be food outlets only [in regional towns]. There will be no growing and there’ll just be empty shop after empty shop, there’ll be essential businesses, food, bakery, pharmacy only.”

On Sunday Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday said the state was “well-placed” to have the lockdown lift as planned on Tuesday night. All new cases recorded in Victoria between Saturday and Monday had been in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period, which mr Andrews said made them ‘essentially zero days’.