Australia

Marco’s cafe isn’t on the front lines, but the bushfires have left his family struggling

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It is estimated up to 150,000 small and medium businesses are feeling the impact of bushfires this summer - with the suffering not just confined to the front lines.

On a summer day, the cafe of Marco Cuevas’ family in Braidwood would expect a rush of hungry holidaymakers seeking homemade pies and pastries.

But as unprecedented bushfires burn near the southern NSW town, the cafe is feeling the pinch as tourists stay away.

“It has been very stressful because our family relies on the business – this is what we built,” Mr Cuevas told SBS News.

The Nerson's cafe in Braidwood.
The Nerson's cafe in Braidwood.
SBS News

Braidwood relies on summer activity from tourists heading to the south coast of NSW  – now ravaged by the bushfire crisis as firefighters desperately battle blazes across the state. 

Mr Cuevas said business is down almost 50 per cent as tourists stay away from the fire zone, putting his business in a tough spot.

"Because the lunch rush is our main business on the summertime, we [have] lost half of our business," he said.

"We just bought the building and we were expecting the summer to give us a big boost and pay for most of the building."

Marco Cuevas prepares pies at his family's cafe in Braidwood.
Marco Cuevas prepares pies at his family's cafe in Braidwood.
SBS News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has held a roundtable with big and small business leaders from fire-affected communities in Canberra to seek their advice on responding to the crisis.

"We are a country of overcomers, we are a country of spirit and nobody I think demonstrates that tremendous spirit and passion than the small business owners and operators of this country," he told reporters, following the meeting.

The bushfires have dealt a severe blow to businesses in affected areas through property damage, employee and supply chain disruption and the loss of income from reduced customer activity.

Council of Small Business of Australia CEO Peter Strong told SBS News an estimated 150,000 businesses have been caught up in the bushfires.

“We have to do something here … this is huge,” he said.

He said an estimated “150,000 businesses affected - a lot of them employ a couple of hundred, thousand other people".

“It has had a huge impact on Braidwood,” Mr Strong said.

“They’ve lost a lot of business because people aren’t travelling down to the coast.”

The Morrison government said it is open to ideas and proposals from businesses to help get local economies back on track.

It said response measures will be vital to helping small businesses and operators in the immediate aftermath of these devastating bushfires.

"These businesses are viable - but vulnerable - and we need to do everything we can to get them back on their feet," Employment Minister Senator Michaelia Cash said.

"The impact and devastation in areas of these bushfires have been unprecedented."

The town of Braidwood is located on the way to New South Wales south coast.
The town of Braidwood is located on the way to New South Wales south coast.
SBS News

Westpac has estimated the bushfire crisis will cost the Australian economy $5 billion and cut up to 0.5 per cent of our economic growth.

The government has already announced a series of disaster relief payments and grants available for businesses, farms and local councils.

As part of the two-billion-dollar National Bushfire Recovery Agency, small businesses can access concessional loans and recover grants of up to $10,000.

But Labor’s Small and Family Business spokesperson Brendan O’Connor also wants a small business task force to assist business owners doing it tough.

“Australian industries, small businesses and their workers are suffering and an appropriate and immediate response is needed,” he said.

“Many small businesses have lost their livelihoods due to devastating bushfires and wonder how they can rebuild."

The Nerson's cafe in Braidwood.
The Nerson's cafe in Braidwood.
SBS News

Mr Strong said cash flow was the biggest issue affecting businesses in bushfire impacted regions.

“That will be talked right across these bushfire regions is cash flow management - I've got no money - how do I pay my bills,” he said.

"Any community exists around business and that's why they have got to continue to trade and continue to work.”

Mr Cuevas hopes the summer rushes will soon return.

"I would encourage them to go in and support the local business, that would be very nice," he said. 

With additional reporting from AAP

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