‘I feel lost’: Fears for Melbourne's multicultural businesses as Stage 4 restrictions bite

Victorian businesses are preparing to modify their operations or shut their doors by midnight on Wednesday, leaving some feeling 'lost' and at odds with their future. But they’re not giving up hope.

Business owner Murat Aytac Dokuzelma.

Footscray Halal Meats owner Murat Aytac Dokuzelma. Source: Supplied

Business owners in Melbourne are fighting to stay open and fearful for their future as tough new Stage 4 restrictions start to bite.

Murat Aytac Dokuzelma has run his halal butcher in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray for about 20 years. He said his loyal customers and staff feel like family. 

But, like thousands of other small businesses across the state, and indeed the country, he is struggling. 

“I feel lost. I don’t know what’s going on,” Mr Dokuzelma told SBS News. 

“We don’t know what our future holds.” 

Footscray Halal Meats in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray.
Footscray Halal Meats in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray. Source: Supplied

Footscray Halal Meats is among the businesses permitted to remain open under Stage 4 restrictions

The new rules allow essential businesses and operations - such as butchers, grocery stores, bottle shops and pharmacies, along with those involved in the frontline response to the pandemic - to continue trading as normal. 

Construction sites, warehouses and distributions will be required to scale back their operations and cafes and restaurants will switch to takeaway only as health authorities race to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

From midnight on Wednesday, all non-essential retail, services and manufacturing businesses in metropolitan Melbourne will be required to close their stores for at least six weeks while Stage 4 restrictions are in place. 

Residents and businesses in regional Victoria are also preparing to re-enter Stage 3 restrictions at midnight on Wednesday.

Experts estimate the measures could lead to another 250,000 job losses across Victoria.

‘Are we going to survive?’

Mr Dokuzelma said while he feels lucky his business can remain open, the next six weeks won’t be easy. 

“I’m stressed. I’m trying to run my business, and keep it open. But for a small business like us, are we going to survive after those six weeks?” he said. 

Mr Dokuzelma employs six staff members and, so far during the pandemic, he hasn’t stood anyone down.

“I couldn’t do that to them. They are like my family … They have families, too. I have to keep them,” he said. 

How will your workplace be affected by Melbourne's new Stage 4 coronavirus restrictions?
Footscray Halal Meats will remain open during the next six week lockdown. Source: Supplied

Mr Dokuzelma’s said his customers are still coming in, but business is not like it used to be. And while meat prices are going up, he said he’s reluctant to increase his own. 

“Our customers have been very loyal over the last 20 years… I can’t put my prices up, I can’t do that to them,” he said, adding he is concerned they might “get the wrong idea”. 

“That means I’m not going to make a profit for the next six weeks.” 

The small business owner said his saving grace is his meat supplier, who has been looking after him for two decades.

Under the new Stage 4 restrictions, meat works - the source of numerous COVID-19 clusters worldwide - will be able to stay open but will reduce their production by one third. They’ll be subject to strict safety protocols that include all staff members wearing PPE. 

Mr Dokuzelma said his future would be put in jeopardy if meat works were to close. 

“If they close, where are we going to get the meat from? And even if they reduce production, are we going to be able to fill out this place?” he asked. 

‘We have to be positive’

Zurlia Usman has run Emaan, an ethically-sourced Islamic clothing and lifestyle brand, for almost two decades.

In that time she said she has "weathered all the storms", but on Wednesday night, the Coburg store will temporarily close its doors. 

"It's really hard ... but I'm sure this time, we can get through," Ms Usman told SBS News. 

"We have to be positive." 

Ms Usman is optimistic her business will stay afloat.
Ms Usman is optimistic her business will stay afloat. Source: SBS News

Emaan sells clothing and lifestyle accessories, such as prayer mats, attar and perfume along with a range of books on Islam.  

From Thursday, the business will rely on its online store. Under the new restrictions, retail stores will be permitted to operate contactless 'click and collect' and delivery services with strict safety protocols in place. 

"We are working really hard on it - we dispense all the orders within 24 hours," Ms Usman said. 

"Of course it's less than if we had the shop and the online store. But we are doing really well." 

Ms Usman said she and her four staff will rely on government support, including JobKeeper payments and new grants. The state government has announced grants of $5,000 for regional businesses and $10,00 for those in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire to cope with the tougher restrictions. But these are not available to sole traders. 

Ms Usman said she hopes this will be enough to get through. 

"It’s harder this time ...We didn’t expect it to happen again. But hopefully, we will overcome these problems and we will go back to normal," she said. 

Mr Dokuzelma, too, is feeling hopeful. 

“My personal feeling is I can survive,” he said. 

“I am lucky to be in Australia. We are safe here.” 

Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am. During the curfew, people in Melbourne can only leave their house for work, and essential health, care or safety reasons.

Between 5am and 8pm, people in Melbourne can leave the home for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative. The full list of restrictions .

All Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

6 min read
Published 4 August 2020 at 5:52pm
By Emma Brancatisano