‘WE ARE CLOSED’

Our spe­cial re­port on busi­ness shut­downs

Stanthorpe Border Post - - FRONT PAGE - Nicky Mof­fat

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

Belt econ­omy.

“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

PHOTO: LIANA WALKER

DE­PART­ING: McGre­gor Ter­race Food Project own­ers Ben and Lou Lanyon with their three sons. The fam­ily are mov­ing to new pas­tures.

PHOTO: MATTHEW PUR­CELL

BET­TER TIMES: Head chef at Gir­raween Inn's Spot­ted Quoll restau­rant Aaron Clews.

PHOTO: LIANA TURNER

Kin­sey John­son at Vis­cos­ity, Stan­thorpe.

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