Coronavirus threat wipes out westside hospitality

Stuart Lucca-Pope is president of the Footscray Traders Association and runs Littlefoot bar. Photo by Damjan Janevski. 206671_02

Benjamin Millar

The inner-west hospitality industry is reeling from closures that are being enforced as part of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, with warnings that businesses are at risk of folding without urgent help.

All pubs, bars and licensed clubs nationwide have been shut since noon on Monday, along with cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos and nightclubs.

Restaurants and cafes have been restricted to takeaway and delivery services, while bottleshops have been spared for now.

Yarraville’s iconic Sun Theatre has been closed until further notice, a decision supported by its owners Michael and Anne Smith.

Footscray Traders Association president Stuart Lucca-Pope – a co-owner of popular Footscray bar Littlefoot – said the forced shutdown of businesses will have a devastating impact on the hospitality industry.

“I think the big thing for us is that anything they do needs to be sustainable for six months,” he said.

“Small business provides so much of the economic engine and losing them would destroy the country.”

Mr Lucca-Pope said the situation requires a swift and strong response from all levels of government if businesses are going to survive.

This could include fee rebates, cash payments and freezes on council rates and property rents.

“The Footscray Traders Association is asking Maribyrnong council to get their comms team getting people going door-to-door with accurate information,” he said.

“It has to happen at a federal and state level too, but local councils have those direct conduits with local business.”

Mr Lucca-Pope said a lot of the messaging had been unclear and people had been confused about what they should and shouldn’t be doing.

“People are very unsure and a little bit panicked about what’s going on,” he said.

“I don’t think the messaging is getting through to the whole community, especially with people with English as a second language.

“We’re pushing for calm in the community, because if everyone doesn’t panic, doesn’t go out into crazy hoarding mode, we could all support the whole community.”

Aaron Donato, who runs Bar Josephine and Pie Thief and was on the verge of opening a new cocktail bar, said mixed messaging had made it very difficult to prepare.

“We’re all just desperately crying out for a plan to work towards,” he said.

“We’re told not to panic buy, but it is the very lack of decisive leadership and actionable plans that leads people to panic.”