Australia

Melbourne coronavirus lockdown: Chapel Street business owners blast Daniel Andrews

Struggling business owners in Melbourne‘s once-vibrant Chapel Street have condemned Premier Dan Andrews for devastating the city and turning it into a ghost town.

Abandoned shop premises dot the former bustling prime site shopping and dining street as business after business folded during Victoria’s four strict Covid lockdowns.

And those left still fighting for survival are furious and frustrated at the state government’s handling of the crisis which has left them on the brink of disaster.  

They specifically blame the Premier for pushing them to the edge without reason. 

Struggling business owners in Melbourne’s once-vibrant Chapel Street have condemned Premier Dan Andrews. Pictured left to right: Dom Mezzatesta from Rise Nation gym, Nicola Cuiper from Xtend Barre, Natalie Guest From Green Cup cafe and Drew Westfield from Gript gym

Natalie Guest, of Chapel Street health food cafe, Green Cup, has resorted to takeaway operations during the city's repeated lockdowns with revenue falling by 20 per cent

Natalie Guest, of Chapel Street health food cafe, Green Cup, has resorted to takeaway operations during the city’s repeated lockdowns with revenue falling by 20 per cent

‘He’s killing the state and he’s killing Chapel Street,’ said Drew Westfield, owner of South Yarra boutique training studio, GRIPT. 

His business has had to cancel all subscriptions for his 250 members for the duration of every lockdown, costing him more than $20,000 a week in income. 

 Don’t get me started on Dan Andrews and his government. They’re completely incompetent and inept. They’ve clearly failed the state.

 Sarah Lowe, owner of South Yarra XTEND Barre studio

‘Dan Andrews has got a problem with honesty and accountability,’ said Mr Westfield. ‘What he’s really good at is deflecting and putting the blame and criticism on others.

‘They’ve got no confidence in their competence to get us through this and they’re scared. They’re afraid, so they make the worst possible decisions to protect themselves.

‘They don’t take into consideration what damage these harsh decisions they’re making are having on the people they’re meant to be looking after.’

The delay in introducing a mandatory state-wide QR code check-in system was just one example of the error-strewn approach to the pandemic, he said.

‘Gyms are a safe place to be,’ he said. ‘There’s bookings and tracing systems in place that are more effective and efficient than the government’s own.

‘Yet even once the new restrictions are lifted, you can go to a brothel and get one on one servicing, but you still can’t get a one on one with a personal trainer in a gym.

‘Does that make sense? They’re ignoring the science.’

Abandoned shop premises dot the former bustling prime site shopping and dining street in the heart of Melbourne

Abandoned shop premises dot the former bustling prime site shopping and dining street in the heart of Melbourne 

Drew Westfield (far left), owner of South Yarra boutique training studio, GRIPT, says he's losing more than $20,000 a week as a result of the lockdown

Drew Westfield (far left), owner of South Yarra boutique training studio, GRIPT, says he’s losing more than $20,000 a week as a result of the lockdown

Natalie Guest, of Chapel Street health food cafe, Green Cup, has transitioned to a take-away operation during the repeated lockdowns, costing them 20 per cent in lost revenue – but has seen others pay a far higher price. 

‘It’s really quite scary when you see so many empty shops on the strip,’ she told Daily Mail Australia. ‘There’s 10-15 empty shops every 200m on Chapel Street now. 

‘It’s a massive impact. In those areas where there should be office workers, it’s all closed, and retail business has taken a huge hit.

‘It’s certainly not the appealing place it used to be.’ 

'There's got to be a better way of doing it than locking down the whole state, and putting everyone's mental health and their livelihoods at stake,' Ms Guest (above) said

 ‘There’s got to be a better way of doing it than locking down the whole state, and putting everyone’s mental health and their livelihoods at stake,’ Ms Guest (above) said

Watching the way other states handle Covid breakouts has merely added to the anger and frustration, said Ms Guest.

‘There’s got to be a better way of doing it than locking down the whole state, and putting everyone’s mental health and their livelihoods at stake,’ she added. 

‘They’ve got to look at what the other states are doing to have things better under control.’

Mr Westfield added: ‘I think one of the frustrating things for Melburnians in particular is seeing how the New South Wales Liberal government has been able to contain outbreaks in Sydney, without going into full lockdown. 

‘We’re talking about the same amount of cases, and only areas were shut down with minor restrictions. 

‘We’ve currently got one or two cases a day here, and the entire state is under restrictions. 

‘Something’s not right there. And that’s what people are getting frustrated with. It’s just a gross overreaction and over-reach every time.’  

Mother of three Sarah Lowe opened her South Yarra XTEND Barre studio in December 2019 – and has been shut by lockdowns for 45 per cent of the time ever since.

She abandoned Victoria in January to run the studio by remote control from New South Wales after the stress of the constant lockdowns became too much.

‘It’s just devastating,’ she said. ‘There are no words for the predicament I’m in, to be honest. I’m in a franchise so I can’t just close the doors and walk away.

‘I have obligations – rental obligations, franchise agreement obligations – and 18 months after I first opened, it’s nowhere near where it should be.

‘All the working capital I had set aside when we opened – which all new businesses have to get them through that start up phase – was eaten up through franchise fees during lockdown periods… with no income.’

Ms Lowe added: ‘Don’t get me started on Dan Andrews and his government. They’re completely incompetent and inept. They’ve clearly failed the state.

‘Other states like New South Wales have managed outbreaks of similar sizes without closing an entire state. It makes no sense.

‘It worked there, why can’t it work in Victoria? What’s different? The virus is no different from state to state.

‘I don’t know if it’s a power trip or if it’s political – I just don’t understand.’

'I don't know if it's a power trip or if it's political': Barre studio owner Ms Low (right) on Victoria's fourth lockdown in two years

‘I don’t know if it’s a power trip or if it’s political’: Barre studio owner Ms Low (right) on Victoria’s fourth lockdown in two years

Ghost town: Business owners spoke to Daily Mail Australia about the devastating impact of repeated lockdowns

Ghost town: Business owners spoke to Daily Mail Australia about the devastating impact of repeated lockdowns 

Despite the repeated lockdowns, Premier Andrews still enjoys popular support in the state, even though he’s not been seen in three months since falling and injuring his ribs and back.

Ms Lowe added: ‘I don’t think the local media have been harsh enough. They’ve been very much taking the stance that we’re doing what needs to be done.

‘They’re pushing the lockdown narrative and the vaccine is going to save us narrative. It’s a very unbalanced view.

‘I don’t think they’re showing the devastation that people are going through  – and people aren’t even allowed to protest.’

Tegan Milner has switched her Chapel Street Snow White Bakery to being an online-only cake store for the latest lockdown as there’s no-one around to sell to locally.

‘There’s no foot traffic,’ she told Daily Mail Australia. ‘There’s no-one around.

‘He’s killed Chapel Street. The area was just starting to pick up again, there was people moving around and people were coming back to work.

‘And it’s just devastated everyone again. We’re exhausted – devastated, frustrated and angry.’

Ms Milner added: ‘Last year I stayed open but this time there was no point. 

‘It’s heartbreaking. You put all your blood sweat and tears into building your business – and then you get told you’ve got to shut down.

‘It’s a ghost town now. One hundred per cent it’s a ghost town.’

'It'd be good to actually see his (Premier Daniel Andrews) face at the moment,' said Green Cup's Natalie Guest

‘It’d be good to actually see his (Premier Daniel Andrews) face at the moment,’ said Green Cup’s Natalie Guest

Despite the suffering, none of the local business owners had seen Premier Andrews or anyone in government in the area to witness the devastation for themselves. 

‘I have no faith he’d do that,’ said Ms Milner. ‘I don’t think he cares enough. 

‘It’d be good to actually see his face at the moment,’ said Green Cup’s Natalie Guest. 

‘I don’t think he’s been challenged by too many people in his own party in terms of how he’s doing things.’   

 ‘Dan Andrews has killed Chapel Street. The area was just starting to pick up again, there was people moving around and people were coming back to work. And it’s just devastated everyone again. We’re exhausted – devastated, frustrated and angry.’

 Tegan Milner, Chapel Street Snow White Bakery

Rise Nation gym in South Yarra is facing its fourth lockdown since launching in Australia just three years ago.  

‘We’ve been preparing all week for this reopening and we are pumped and raring to go,’ owner Silvia Kramska told media optimistically at the end of the second lockdown in November last year.

‘We’ve got a strong following who have filled up our classes already for the next few weeks. Everyone wants to look good this summer.’

At midnight on Thursday, local businesses celebrated the lifting of the latest restrictions with free burgers from Hello Sam on Chapel Street for everyone wearing a black tie. 

But the spectre of a fifth lockdown looms large over every Victorian business owner.

GRIPT’s Mr Westfield admitted he was falling further and further behind with payments with every lockdown.

‘We’re running on very thin margins because we’re trying to catch up from last year, as well as keeping our people employed, keep people in jobs,’ he said.

‘And each lockdown that happens only pushes us even further behind and applies even more pressure, because unfortunately when these lockdowns and restrictions are put in place, those commitments don’t stop.’

And XTEND Barre studio’s Ms Lowe admitted: ‘I’m barely keeping our head above water in the studio as it is. 

 ‘I don’t know if it would recover. How are you supposed to recover?’

But the spectre of a fifth lockdown looms large over every Victorian business owner (empty streets pictured on Thursday)

But the spectre of a fifth lockdown looms large over every Victorian business owner (empty streets pictured on Thursday)

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