BY-PASS PROVING BAD FOR BUSINESS
Significant customer decline has highway businesses concerned about future traffic numbers
BUSINESSES are struggling and reporting customer losses of up to 75 per cent as the opening of the new Toowoomba Second Range Crossing has left them fearing for the future and economy of Withcott.
Maria Taylor, co-owner of Hidden Seductions, on what was the Warrego Highway, said business was “so slow” that their customer base had been halved while Megan Lankester, manager of Ooh La La Cafe, said she had experienced a three-quarter reduction in customers and had needed to cut staff.
Ms Lankester said business had begun “going downhill” when the Nexus Infrastructure workers in the region finished the bypass, and said it was “pretty much a ghost town here now”.
“The majority of our customers were Nexus workers but now we’ve also lost a lot of truck drivers,” Ms Lankester said.
“Because we’ve got the carpark out the back, they would come and get a coffee and a burger and now they bypass us completely.
“We need something to attract people to Withcott – it’s not that far from Toowoomba.”
Ms Lankester said there might be plans for a go-kart track nearby, which she hoped would entice people to the area.
“It’s been really tough trying to pay wages and it’s hard to give staff the hours,” she said.
Staff numbers had been reduced from six to four, and the four still employed were working fewer hours, she said.
“I feel terrible not being able to give them the hours but we’re not earning enough to pay everyone’s wages.”
Co-owner of Hidden Seductions, Ms Taylor, said the three-month free toll on the bypass – due to come to an end early December – had also been taking its toll since the bypass opened on September 8.
“Hardly anybody is coming in, and it’s not the best time of year to go through this,” Ms Taylor said.
She said there was now no passing trade.
“We’ve needed to cut costs every way we can. Every business I’ve spoken to is saying it’s dead here. Over the past month it’s just gone really quiet. We were broken into mid-june and suffered a massive loss. So we’d already taken a bit of a kick in the guts, and then there’s the bypass.”
Ms Taylor said business was usually good in the prechristmas September-october season as people bought Secret Santa items.
“We’d changed the hours because sometimes people want to come through late at night, so generally we’re open until about 8pm. But last week we had no trade so we were shutting about 6pm,” she said.
“I think the government should compensate some people for the amount of loss, but they’re going to say it’s not their fault. Unless council can drive more employment to the area, there’s not much more that can be done.”
She said she had wanted to introduce a fundraiser where she donated money from each sale to farmers and those affected by fires in the region.
“But now there’s not enough trade to do that. We’re just concerned about what’s going to happen next,” she said.
Linda Czerwinski, part owner of Pro Graphics, said she believed increased investment in the area, including a high school and supermarket, would boost the economy.
“We’re missing out on a bit of trade, but we never got much from trucks anyway,” she said.
“We’re affected in other ways – it’s more the lack of rain as a lot of our clients need rain to buy things.
“Now, we don’t know if it’s the new range going through or the drought affecting business because it all happened at the same time.”
She said she was worried there was not enough investment in Withcott, and the town would suffer in the longterm.
“I’m afraid the government hasn’t thought smartly about it and I feel like we’re going to end up like Grantham. The new highway means we’ll miss out on the people who would use the cafes, come for dinner, and use the service stations.”
Justine Soper from Withcott’s barber shop said the road hadn’t made much difference, as her clientele was local.
“I think there’s some businesses that are closing and some that are opening, and I think that would have happened anyway.”
Ms Soper said it was a “time of change” for Withcott.
State Member for Lockyer Jim Mcdonald said he was concerned about the impact of the crossing on local businesses.
“Although there will be a reduction in the number of cars and heavy vehicles through Withcott, potentially making traffic movements in Withcott easier for local traffic, some of the heavy vehicles did stop in town and that business will now be lost,” he said.
Mr Mcdonald, who has spoken with local businesses, said the current State Government didn’t have any plans for economic stimulus for the town.
CONCERNED: Hidden Seductions business owner Maria Taylor, at the Withcott business.
CONCERNED OWNER: Hidden Seductions business owner Maria Taylor, at the Withcott business.