Business Casualties from Lockdown and Construction

photo credit: Ragazzi Cafe & Wine Bar

First published on RNZ and republished with permission.

A mainstay of Takapuna's cafe scene has said 'arrivederci' to customers for the final time, shutting its doors in large part due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It is a situation shared by many on Hurstmere Road where restrictions, coupled with road works, have driven some businesses to breaking point.

"Yesterday was our last day that we served to customers, so there were a few tears on my way driving to work yesterday morning, just because it's like finished," said Ragazzi Cafe manager Hayley Isted.

"I have a cafe managing job at Glenfield Mall, but I can't start it until the mall opens. So as of yesterday, I'm unemployed until the mall opens, or I'm just going to have to look for something else."

After six years, her days of welcoming customers through the front doors are over.

The cafe sits empty. Its tables and chairs are nowhere to be seen, other wares sold off online. Staff have been told they are no longer needed.

"The chef, he's just managed to get a job, but again, he can't start 'til the traffic light moves or the levels drop, so at the moment, we're all unemployed," Isted said.

If there was ever a street that embodied the cost of Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, Hurstmere Road is it.

As well as restrictions, the area has also been disrupted by roadworks. But it is COVID-19 that has landed the knockout blow for some.

Leaf & Loaf cafe owner Stuart Wright is fighting on but struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"It's just impossible; we have no direction. The system that we had with level 1, level 2, level 3, level 4, that was very well communicated, we knew exactly where we were, we knew exactly what we had to do.

"Now we've got level 2.94, level 2.73, you know, we've got all these different levels within levels, and it's just confusing, and nobody knows what's going on."

Even when Auckland does reach the traffic light system, Wright said he would not be opening properly until the 'green' signal flashes up.

"I don't want my staff also policing the [vaccination] passports or no passports, because it's just going to create friction, it's just going to create people getting angry with my staff, I don't want that.

"So we'll stay exactly where we are, everybody is socially distanced, everybody is contactless, you cannot come in here until that system is changed and we've got freedom, where we can all come and go as we please."

While some say UberEats is filling the void, the vast majority of Takapuna businesses spoken to by Checkpoint said they are desperate for more freedom. Takapuna Beach Business Association Terence Harpur said the situation was dire.

"There have really been some heartbreaking stories around, people that have put their life savings into their businesses and then they've had to close, they've got their homes on the line, everything that they've worked for on the line, and they have to close because they can't trade.

"Last Thursday, I saw a very sad thing, a well-known cafe in Takapuna closing its doors for the last time, the owners physically lifting the furniture, crockery, chairs, out into a moving truck to auction off."

Joe Geo opened Joe's Eatery six months before COVID-19 hit the country.

"I don't come from a hospitality background; I come from a corporate background. And so, I'm doing something like this for the first time in my life, so every day is a significant learning curve for me," he said.

"I'm struggling; I'm struggling at various levels. Financially, of course, I think it is the same story for everyone."