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How you can help Canberra businesses stay open

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Closing the doors to his Phillip café, Manolo’s, for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic was emotionally draining enough for Alex Piris.

To have to do it all over again would be “devastating.”

“When all the gyms, yoga studios, dance businesses and offices started closing around us, we had no choice but to shut,” says Alex.

“We were only able to reopen three weeks ago when those businesses all started opening again. We’ve had a great response so far, but there is still a lot of anxiety about it happening again.”

While Canberrans have enjoyed the return of their favourite hospitality and entertainment venues since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions last month, business owners like Alex are urging locals not to become complacent.

“We want everyone to enjoy their experience, but we obviously don’t want things to escalate again, so everyone should continue social distancing and following the [COVID-safe guidelines]—we don’t want to risk another shutdown after only just reopening our doors.”

This means people should continue to keep 1.5 metres apart, wash their hands regularly and stay home if they’re not feeling well.

Director of fine dining at The Boat House, James Souter, has also started welcoming customers back, after having to close for three months in March.

With the fine-dining venue so heavily reliant on weddings, conferences and events—all of which are now virtually non-existent—they have had to adjust the business model since reopening.

“We recently launched a set of lunches and dinners open to the public, which will be a more casual approach,” says James.

“We’ll also look to launch a cocktail bar towards spring/summer. So, we’re just doing things a little differently.”

Like Alex, James is hopeful his doors will stay open for good.

“It is difficult enough for a restaurant like us to work through these conditions, but it’s no help if people don’t follow them,” he says.

“We go to great lengths as a restaurant—distancing tables, providing customers with their own menu and linen, sanitising everything and so on—but that responsibility is still with the customer as well to do the right thing.”

Canberra’s tourist destinations such as Cockington Green Gardens have also recently reopened after having to go into hibernation when COVID-19 shutdowns came into place.

The gardens, filled with meticulously handcrafted miniature buildings from around the world, are once again filled with children and families excitedly riding its miniature steam train or peering into the windows of tiny castles.

Seeing this after three long months of silence has been a welcome change for General Manager Mark Sarah, who says it was “heartbreaking” to close.

“It was devastating after we’d just had the bushfires to then have to shut down when we’d been operating for so long,” he says.

As a venue purely based on an in-person experience, Mark says there is no luxury of Plan B should they have to shut down again.

“Unlike other businesses, we are in an industry that is unable to trade online, or seek other alternatives if we have to close the doors,” he says.

“Tourism is one of the last bastions to require people to come in to look at your product, so basically we still need people to come through to keep our team employed and keep the wheels turning.”

As for the way forward for Canberra’s customers and businesses, James sums it up neatly: people will need to “rethink” their expectations during this time.

“We’ve had to pivot our business, but our customers have to pivot too,” he says.

“If we’re going to get through this and we all want these venues to stay open and get the best out of our city, then we all need to work together.”

Enjoy the best of Canberra but please be mindful. Don’t let your complacency set us all back.

For more information on how you can help, visit act.gov.au/chooselocalcbr.

Feature image: Rohan Thomson

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