Eurobodalla Shire Council has renewed its focus on revitalising the region’s night-time economy, however business leaders are warning it won’t be easy.
Two of the region’s business chambers say unavoidable factors have prevented growth in this space in recent history and addressing those issues will be vital.
The council is supporting the early evening 6 pm to 9 pm timeslot, but also working to develop the 9 pm to 11 pm slot.
Council’s Economic Development and Place Activation manager Teresa Lever acknowledged each town centre would need to be approached on a case-by-case basis, considering the community profile and the different permissions of each precinct.
Narooma Chamber of Commerce President Dr Jenny Munro said there was optimism within the community when businessman Justin Hemmes purchased three commercial venues in town.
However, the impact of Mr Hemmes’ investment in Narooma had been dulled by the lack of potential employees – a problem currently shared across the Eurobodalla and most of the greater region.
“Despite the fact that we’ve got new offerings in town, they’re actually confronted with the same issues that former owners had and exactly the same thing that has happened in other places,” Dr Munro said.
“It’s just finding people to actually work in hospitality, so, unfortunately, a lot of places are closed for part of the week, and a lot close early.
“Narooma has actually been in exactly the same position as everyone else, and I’m really hoping that opening the borders to international visitors later this month is actually going to make a huge difference.”
Dr Munro believes having food options both later into the night and seven days a week is “absolutely critical”.
“It was always a bit of a joke when people came to visit us and we’d say ‘let’s go out for dinner, but we’ll have to go out at 6 pm because everything will be closed down by 7:30 pm’,” she said.
“This has always been the complaint. That there was nowhere to eat on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and a lot of the eating places actually closed early.”
Dr Munro says improving the options for youth in the area, considering the availability of longer-term leases for potential employees, and the decrease in COVID hesitancy are all things she’d like to see addressed to commit to the idea of bringing a night-time economy to Narooma.
She is excited about the upcoming outdoor cinema event in March, which she hopes will highlight the night-time opportunities present in Narooma.
“I think that the shire is actually quite keen to get things happening, and I think starting with a cinema is an excellent idea,” said Dr Munro.
President of the Batemans Bay Business and Tourism Chamber David Maclachlan was less optimistic about the potential for a night-time economy, suggesting the region is somewhat restricted.
“People say let’s do this and let’s do that, but there’s a bit of a reality in all of this. The fact is, the vast majority of small businesses in the Eurobodalla don’t employ anyone. Most of them are small businesses or family businesses,” said Mr Maclachlan.
“There are several reasons why we don’t have as much weekend trade when we’re a tourist destination. One is the availability of labour, which is more COVID related, but a really big thing for small businesses is that not everybody wants to work seven days a week.”
He said that seasonality and a lack of tourism infrastructure are among other issues.
“If the governments want to see improvements they must address the underlying factors that are causing those things not to happen,” said Mr Maclachlan.
Ms Lever acknowledged the validity of the issues raised by the business leaders but was confident that they could address them.
“They are all valid points and those trading hours are a really interesting one because what we’re doing in some locations wouldn’t necessarily work with others,” said Ms Lever.
“Part of that process is for us to work with industry to look at the evidence and ultimately at the end of the day, the business owner will make a decision based on what is best for their business.”
She said revitalising the night-time economy in the Eurobodalla was about creating discussion and enabling the council to support existing and new businesses.
Those with night-time ideas across the Eurobodalla region are encouraged to email Ms Lever at [email protected]