Kathryn Lewis

Canberra businesses prepare for coronavirus Christmas | The Canberra Times

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Bustling crowds and packed shopping centres will be replaced with physically-distanced, hand-sanitised shoppers for a coronavirus Christmas. With 33 sleeps until the big day, store owners can’t be sure what the festive season will look like in 2020 and while for some the prospect of Canberrans staying home will be a boost for business, some of the city’s smallest vendors are worried the usual boom won’t arrive. After a rollercoaster year which has wreaked havoc on family budgets and pushed unemployment to a record high, consumers are expected to take a miserly approach this holiday season. A Finder survey of 1066 people found almost 40 per cent planned to reduce their Christmas spending from last year. More than 30 per cent would cut back by a third and one in five said they would halve their 2019 budget. The survey found Victorians and Queenslanders would pull back the most, providing some hope Canberra’s long-held COVID-free status could aid local business. Although unsurprising, the news is a blow to small business owners usually reliant on the end of year boom to buoy their finances through January. Karina Gowen is usually run off her feet preparing for a Christmas rush of her handmade baby items sold at local markets. “I usually start sewing from about the start of August to get ready for the Christmas period, and I’m having weekends off which is unusual,” she said. “I’m worried because that’s a time we normally make our money and it gets us through the January period where all your bills come in. “Myself and everyone else that attends the handmade markets, we’re all in the same boat, we’re all worried.” Canberra’s Handmade Markets pivoted to a digital slot in the early days of the pandemic, although it has worked for some, Ms Gowen is lucky to make back her costs during the online event. She too has pivoted, her handmade face masks did a roaring trade but that has now dried up. She said impulse purchases and elderly customers who hadn’t moved online were a critical clientele she had lost entirely. “I think it’s a case that people are watching their dollars now. People are losing jobs, shops are shutting down. People are just watching their money at the moment.” It’s not the same story for all traders. Deli Cravings owner Christa Potter is nervous for Christmas, expecting the festive rush to be busier this year. “After the panic buying it eased off a little but stayed really, really busy and it hasn’t changed from February,” she said. “Come Christmas I am a little bit scared, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Ms Potter wasn’t sure she could keep her shelves stocked with the many imported goods the deli is known for. Despite opening two months late this year, the Bredbo Christmas Barn has done a roaring trade. “COVID if anything, has made us busier,” owner Leanne de Smet said. “I do believe it’s because there are so many people out there doing it a little bit tough and they just want to put a little bit of joy in their homes.” Now in the busiest period for the seasonal store, Ms de Smet said ACT and NSW residents were easily making up for lost interstate visitors. She had been concerned sales would languish due to the pandemic but the desire for an injection of holiday joy has won out. “Earlier on I was [worried] because it was more of an unknown, but because it’s been so strong these last couple of months I’m really not concerned,” she said. In Fyshwick, Super Toyworld managing director Peter MacLeod was also optimistic about the upcoming festive period. Local shoppers had kept the store going and allowed it to push ahead with plans to open a Belconnen site by Christmas, he said. Mr MacLeod said an online store, launched early due to COVID-19, had been a critical part of the shop’s success. Of course Christmas would look different with family activities usually hosted on school holidays on pause for the pandemic. Mr MacLeod hoped a COVID-safe format would be possible by December. “When we do an event set-up, we’ll be looking at the digital version and the in-store version, so depending on the climate and the conditions we’re under and the rules, we’ll adapt to either one,” he said. It’s been a year of uncertainty but Canberra shopping centres have confirmed Santa and the elves will be making a COVID-safe appearance this year. Holiday fun will take place at a distance and booking ahead and staying apart will be key. At all of Canberra’s shopping centres the family tradition with Santa Claus will go ahead with children at a safe distance for photos. “There will be physical distancing floor decals on the ground to show people where to stand … and the seat that guests sit on will have a clear vinyl top for easy cleaning between photos,” a Majura Park Shopping Centre spokeswoman said. At Majura Park, families will take their own photos except for some sessions where a photographer will be on-hand. The Canberra Centre will introduce a virtual queuing system as Christmas crowds build so shoppers can see the best time to visit. Extended trading hours will be brought forward to the end of November as shoppers are urged not to leave it to the last-minute to avoid busy periods. General manager Gary Stewart said families needed to book to visit Santa but a virtual experience would also be on offer. “This year we’re also introducing contact-free Zoom calls with Santa,” he said. The call will come at a cost and customers can receive photos to remember the pandemic experience.


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