Bringing Byron Businesses Back
What’s your favourite part of living in the Byron Shire?
The most common answers revolve around our beautiful beaches and renowned nature reserves. These are closely followed by our strong culture, underpinned by our diverse local businesses. From corner cafes to boutique retailers, Byron businesses play a major role in our daily lives.
They have also supported our community through thick and thin; they have given our struggling youth hope; they have played their part in protecting our environment; they were there for those in need during fires and floods.
Unfortunately, ongoing restrictions and intermittent lockdowns have created a lot of uncertainty and loss of profit for small business owners. A few have been able to grow – often by completely overhauling their approach – but most have been pushed to the edge and are desperately hoping for a return to some sense of normality. Over the past 18 months, these business owners have watched what they worked so hard to build be slowly suffocated. Once hopeful dreams are now reaching for their last gasp.
Let’s not let any more of our businesses fall. Let’s come together as a community, put our differences aside and help our local businesses to survive, then thrive.
The Challenges Our Small Business Community Face
We have all been impacted by the global pandemic in one way or another. For our local business owners, adjusting to constantly changing rules and requirements is now the norm. They have rejoiced at the promise of relaxing restrictions and being allowed to get back to doing what they do best. They have also hesitantly made plans to temporarily adjust their business models as new rules and requirements are introduced.
Along with this to-and-fro has come a nagging worry about the future of their business. While some of the world’s largest companies have thrived during lockdown, smaller local operations have suffered. Without the same strong online presence and established distribution networks, they simply cannot compete with bigger players.
This has seen a major shift in wealth, away from small business owners and to the large multinational corporations.
At the local level, we see this most clearly in the unfortunate number of businesses that have sadly not survived. In the tourism, arts and hospitality industries, enforced shutdowns have severely impeded many businesses’ ability to make money. Similarly, most small retail stores do not have the infrastructure to easily switch to an online and home-delivery model. Meanwhile, the bills keep rolling in and, eventually, many simply cannot hold on anymore.
We have also seen a growing disconnect between commercial tenants and their landlords. With many businesses unable to trade, at least not at their usual levels, covering rent has become difficult. While most landlords were initially willing to agree to a rent reduction or deferral, their understanding has worn thin over time. As a result, even with the support schemes available to them, some landlords are no longer open to alternative arrangements.
Gaps Need to be Filled
While news headlines often feature the various grants available for small business owners (you can find a comprehensive list at the bottom of this post), the reality is that they do not support all businesses. In fact, you could argue they are designed to exclude many.
The strict eligibility criteria means a lot of small businesses fall through the cracks and continue to feel the pain. For example, there is minimal support for businesses that have an annual turnover of less than $75k. And for those that do, most schemes require evidence of this over the last two financial years. One of which was significantly shaped by the global pandemic, meaning most local businesses would fail to meet this requirement.
What’s more, as much of this support is designed to keep employees in jobs, sole traders are largely overlooked. This is particularly true if they have an annual turnover under $75k. Even the JobSaver scheme (which requires a minimum annual turnover of $75k) is capped at $1,000 per week for sole traders.
Additionally, much of the support on offer is Sydney-centric. The qualifying dates for support are based on when Sydney went into lockdown, from 26th June – 17th July. There is no extension of the scheme for regional areas and the dates they went into lockdown. For hospitality businesses, the food wastage when snap lockdowns are called exacts a heavy toll. Offering a takeaway service covers little more than the food and wage costs. There is nothing left to cover the overheads. If you’re a sole trader who hasn’t been paying yourself a wage, you don’t qualify for the Covid 19 disaster payment.
There are ways to set your business up to ensure you are covered as much as possible, but for many operators they don’t have the time or skills or are simply too exhausted by all that’s happened to bring their thoughts around to be working the system in the most effective way.
Shining Examples of Persistence and Ingenuity
One of the many things we love about this community is its creativity and unbreakable spirit. This has shone brightly over the last couple of years, particularly among our local business owners. Many have been able to quickly adapt to the “new normal”, adjusting their operating model and creating new income streams.
For some, this has meant simple changes, like offering a takeaway or home delivery service. This has allowed them to continue doing at least some trade, even through lockdown periods. It has also helped them keep connected with the loyal customer base that has come to rely on their business.
For others, this has meant diversifying their offering and introducing new products and services to their range. More than simply a way to survive the current restrictions, these innovations are fortifying their business against future challenges.
We have also witnessed some great examples of generosity and community spirit. For every story of a business owner battling with their landlord, there is one of a landlord graciously waiving rent payments. There are also plenty of examples of people going above and beyond to make sure others have what they need to make it through.
What We Can All Do Right Now
In times of crisis, the biggest and most important thing we can do is to look out for each other. It is these situations that unite us and make us stronger as a community. It is also these moments that remind us how important connection and community can be.
With that in mind, we strongly encourage everyone to show their support for Byron’s many wonderful local businesses. Whether this is getting a takeaway coffee from your favourite café or buying something from a local retailers’ online store. It all helps keep money here in Byron and keeps our all-important local businesses running.
Beyond that, the best thing we can do for our local businesses is to stop any more unreasonable restrictions and lockdowns. That is what we are working on at the moment and we are encouraged by the reopening of many regional areas.
However, we know how quickly this situation can change. As such, we ask everyone to stay vigilant. We have seen things change rapidly before and we want to avoid anything that could jeopardise the positive progress we have made.
Together, we can help our local businesses not only to thrive but to survive! In the famous words of civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
Sending hope to you all,
Michael Lyon and The Byron Independents
Support Currently Available for Businesses
- COVID-19 Business Grants: Eligible businesses can apply for up to $15,000 (exact amount based on decline in turnover) to cover reduced demand due to lockdown. To be eligible, your business needs to have had $75k+ turnover in FY20 and a 30%+ decline in turnover during lockdown. For more information on these grants, or to apply, see the Service NSW website.
- COVID-19 Micro-business grants: Eligible businesses can apply for up to $1,500 per fortnight of restrictions. To be eligible, your business needs to have an annual turnover of $30k – $75k, a 30%+ decline in turnover during lockdown, and costs not covered by other support schemes. For more information on these grants, or to apply, see the Service NSW website.
- JobSaver: Eligible businesses can receive $1,500 – $100,000 per week (amount based on weekly payroll value) to help maintain their headcount. To be eligible, your business needs to have employees, an annual turnover of $75k – $250m, and a 30%+ decline in turnover during lockdown. For more information on this scheme, or to apply, see the Service NSW website.
- Land tax relief: Owners of commercial investment properties can claim up to a 100% reduction in their 2021 land tax liability. To be eligible for this, they need to have formally agreed a rent reduction with their tenant. The exact amount they can claim will be equal to the amount of lost rental income they have agreed to.
- Rent relief for Crown land lease holders: Eligible businesses that lease Crown land can request rent relief. To be eligible, your business needs to have an annual turnover of less than $50m and a 30%+ decline in turnover during lockdown. For more information on this scheme, or to apply, see the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website.