Australia

After the Easter Show was cancelled, stallholders have gone online in a bid to survive

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The future of the Sydney Royal Easter Show is in doubt, with organisers and exhibitors facing multi-million dollar losses after the cancellation of this year's event. Some businessess are now selling their goods online to try and make ends meet.

For the past four years, Paola Karamallis has worked to perfect the art of making fairy floss. Not the ordinary pink or blue variety, but gourmet flavours including Salted Caramel and Apple Pie.

At a workshop south of Sydney, Paola and her husband Michael concoct eye-popping varieties. They even make a fairy floss ice-cream burrito called The Flurrito.

The shelves inside their workshop in South Hurstville are stacked high with fluorescent coloured sugar, waiting to be spun into floss by purpose-built machines.

But Ms Karamallis, a Colombian refugee who fled her homeland to make a new life in Australia in 2000, fears the cancellation of the Sydney Royal Easter Show means their business Fluffy Crunch is facing financial ruin.

Paola and Michael Karamallis
Paola and Michael Karamallis are now selling their unusual flavours of fairy floss online.
SBS News

“We have stress, anger, fear and anxiety,” the 41-year-old told SBS News while taking a break from labelling some of their products. 

Mr Karamallis said: “Just [losing] the Sydney Royal Show, we’re looking at $80,000. Now the Brisbane Ekka [Queensland's annual agricultural show] has been cancelled as well, we are back to the drawing board".

“If all the major shows get cancelled, it’s probably better we just close the doors.”

They estimate their losses at around $200,000 since coronavirus measures cancelled most major markets.

The couple is now pushing their products online and say community support has helped them keep going.

“It makes us cry, to be honest. It’s just been amazing,” Ms Karamallis said. 

Easter Show goes online

Easter Show organisers are offering exhibitors some hope, with an online marketplace running until Tuesday 14 April. 

“It'll take you through to over 120 exhibitors that would normally be at the show,” said Paul Bowd from the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS).

“It's going well and we are getting some really, really good feedback. A lot of people are going online, and it's a free service that we're able to offer.”

Paul Bowd from RAS in an empty showground pavillion.
Paul Bowd from RAS in an empty showground pavillion.
SBS

The RAS has stood down 150 staff and is closing its doors this week for several months in a bid to cut costs.

“We're in huge financial trouble and, and the future is uncertain for us at the moment,” Mr Bowd said.

“There's a big hole in our finances and until we can find a way to plug it, we can't commit to another show.” 

Restaurateur John Panebianco is another longtime show stakeholder.

Mr Panebianco’s family migrated from Sicily in 1958 and as a young man, he started a small gelato bar in Norton St, Leichardt. 

Eight years ago he opened Bianco Kitchen on the beachfront at Brighton-Le-Sands, serving traditional Italian dishes.

John Panebianco hopes to sell his stockpiled pasta online.
John Panebianco hopes to sell his stockpiled pasta online.
SBS

But he has now been left with tons of fresh pasta in storage that he had prepared to sell over Easter.

“With gnocchi and pasta, it probably exceeds four or five tons at least. As a total cost with wagesI'm probably out of pocket around $40,000 to $50,000," he said. 

“With COVID-19 hitting us now, it gives me goosebumps unfortunately because we've put a lot of effort into it.” 

Staff at Bianco Kitchen make fresh gnocchi.
Staff at Bianco Kitchen making fresh gnocchi.
SBS

“The Easter Show brings business to our restaurant. So it's a flow-on effect. But this year, I don't know how we're going to survive, to be honest.”

The 53-year-old is now driving a minivan to homes across Sydney delivering online orders of fresh pasta.

“The meals are all fresh frozen. People can order gnocchi or rigatoni with six different sauces in a small tub," he said.    

“It’s one way to use the 40,000 containers we had printed for the show.”

“I'm giving it my best shot because it's not only about me, it's the legacy. I want to be resilient enough to withstand this.” 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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