BY-PASS PROV­ING BAD FOR BUSI­NESS

Sig­nif­i­cant cus­tomer de­cline has high­way busi­nesses con­cerned about fu­ture traf­fic num­bers

Gatton Star - - FRONT PAGE - LOUISE SHAN­NON

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.

PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL

CON­CERNED: Hid­den Se­duc­tions busi­ness owner Maria Tay­lor, at the With­cott busi­ness.

Pic­ture: Ali Kuchel

CON­CERNED OWNER: Hid­den Se­duc­tions busi­ness owner Maria Tay­lor, at the With­cott busi­ness.

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