‘WE ARE CLOSED’
Our special report on business shutdowns
THE closure of nearly 20 local businesses in the past two years has some Granite Belt residents nervous the local economy is suffering a downturn, particularly in hospitality.
A slew of cafes and restaurants have closed, including Viscosity cocktail bar which moved to Fortitude Valley, The Spotted Quoll, Feast & Farmin’ and the McGregor Terrace Food Project.
Several are planning a temporary closure, for example The Bramble Patch at Glen Aplin is taking a one-year break from December 31, and The Barrelroom at Ballandean Estate will close while a replacement is found for its current tenants, who also depart on December 31.
WHILE the reasons for business closures are complex and some have closed for personal reasons, the trend is worrying for others who rely on their custom.
Owner of Granite Belt Cleaning and Hospitality Supplies Nathan Colyer has been in business for eight years and will be affected by the recent business closures as several were his customers.
“My concern is that … if the tourists do come back next winter, they’re going to struggle finding places to eat because we’ve had quite a few cafes closed,” he said.
The co-owner of couples retreat Alure Stanthorpe, Marion Carrick, says in the past 10 years she has “never seen so many businesses closing in such a short period of time, without the balance of a good number of businesses opening”.
The Border Post is aware of a handful of new businesses opening recently in the region, including Espresso at The Vic, Piccolo Van Cafe and Vintage Roads.
Ms Carrick said the impact of business closures was multifaceted.
“It affects community spirit to be regularly hearing another business is closing, and another business. It has to have a financial impact on the community because jobs (are) affected.”
Finding great chefs a key challenge
RECRUITING hospitality staff, particularly top chefs, is notoriously difficult and this appears to be holding back several businesses on the Granite Belt.
The restaurant at Vineyard Cottages & Cafe closed in April when its tenant decided not to continue and has been for sale for months with hardly any interest from potential buyers, owner John Hodges told The Border Post.
Mr Hodges said one approach had been made but they were wanting to serve low-quality “pub food”.
“It wasn’t to the standard that we’d like to do here and that we’ve provided for the eight years we’ve been here,” Mr Hodges said.
Popular eatery the McGregor Terrace Food Project was “extremely profitable”, chef and co-owner Ben Lanyon said, but it was also on the list of closed restaurants and the search is on for “someone energetic” to take over its lease and bring it back to life.
Mr Lanyon and his wife and business partner Louise were convinced by a former employer to move to Alice Springs and manage the exclusive resort Longitude 131 at Uluru-Kata Tjuta.
Waiting for the drought to break
LOCAL businesses are the first to suffer when residents stop spending, so the drought and increased costs of living are having an effect.
“If the locals don’t have money, guess what? They’re not going to go out and eat and dine and shop,” Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce secretary Amanda Harrold said.
While it was true several hospitality and other businesses had closed, she said farms hadn’t closed, even though there was a drought.
Ms Harrold said the local economy was not suffering a downturn as agriculture was the biggest employer in the region and the main driver of success in the Granite
“We’re now in drought and a lot of farms aren’t (in) full production,” she said.
“When that happens there’s the flow-on effect – they don’t employ as many people, they don’t spend as much money in town, there won’t be as many backpackers out here.”
Ms Harrold said hospitality businesses dependent on tourism were “the first to go” when things got tough and visitors to the region dropped.
She added the struggles felt by some businesses highlighted the need for water security in the region and the need for a new dam.
She agreed with the idea that in hospitality the Granite Belt was a “training ground”, with several bars and restaurants either moving to Brisbane or losing key staff to Brisbane venues when they became successful.
New marketing push needed
VINEYARD Cottages and Cafe’s John Hodges is one of a number of business owners who told The Border
Post a new marketing push focusing solely on the Granite Belt would bring more people to the region.
The Granite Belt hosts the Australian Winemaker of the Year, Sirromet Wines’ Mike Hayes, and has some of the best wines in the country.
“The wines the (local wineries) are producing are very good but we’re not getting that message out,” Mr Hodges said.
“Because people don’t see them in Dan Murphy’s and First Choice, they assume that the wines aren’t that good. But when they come here and discover them, they generally will come back.”
The Granite Belt competes with beach destinations like the Sunshine and Gold Coasts in summer and the marketing of the region needed to improve, said Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce secretary Amanda Harrold.
“(The Southern Downs Regional Council) have been marketing as Southern Downs and there’s no brand recognition of the Southern Downs. People don’t know who or what the Southern Downs is.
“Until we start getting back out there with the ‘Granite Belt’ brand, we
can’t break through that market.”
Technology squeezes out local shops
WITH most people now banking online, banks are closing their regional branches and Stanthorpe is no exception.
Suncorp closed its Stanthorpe branch in January 2017 and ANZ followed suit this year.
Other shops that closed suddenly in the past two years include Vincenzo’s at The Big Apple, Central Motors after its partnership with Holden was not renewed, an Officesmart newsagency, Bridget Bunchy at The Summit, and the skate shop Paved Street Store in The Alley Arcade.
While the widespread use of the internet is helping many small businesses gain followers and customers
through social media, it is also shifting the goalposts.
The prevalence of Airbnb, for example, has impacted local accommodation providers who now compete with hosts that don’t pay licences and other fees.
Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie said local residents didn’t tend to shop locally, but it had never been more important to do so.
“Once upon a time people did have that desire to shop local but now they’re looking for the best price, and they’ll travel to get it,” she said.
“If everyone did their shopping at home, these closures wouldn’t happen, but that’s not the custom.”
Cr Dobie also urged businesses in strife to contact the council’s economic development officer for support before they decide to close.
If the locals don’t have money, guess what? They’re not going to go out and eat and dine and shop.
— Amanda Harrold
DEPARTING: McGregor Terrace Food Project owners Ben and Lou Lanyon with their three sons. The family are moving to new pastures.
BETTER TIMES: Head chef at Girraween Inn's Spotted Quoll restaurant Aaron Clews.
Kinsey Johnson at Viscosity, Stanthorpe.