Getting your head around post-COVID

By Rhonda Dredge

Even the CBD has become a village during the lockdown with small businesses slowly opening their doors and offering hospitality in intimate moments that would have passed unnoticed before the pandemic.

When Raj Nair returned to work in November, he rang customers to let them know their favourite magazines were back in stock.

In the old days he was madly dealing with the rush hour demand for newspapers and didn’t have time.

And Block Place café, instead of appealing to hipsters and tourists, was hosting tearful moth- er and daughter reunions as shoppers returned to town after months away.

The first international magazines arrived back in the city in late October, with two copies of the much-awaited New Yorker bringing news of that city’s lockdown. “I only have two today and I’ve sold both of them,” Raj said.

The New Yorkers took a while to get to readers because Newslink at Flinders Street Station has been closed for five months so he had to chase them up out of the warehouse.

The first magazine to enter the city, dated September 14, included an extraordinary ac- count of a Chinese immigrant branded a traitor by nationalists in her home country.

Despite the slow return of people to the CBD, Newslink was shut by 4pm because there was no peak hour.

Alejandro Lobez, the owner of a Block Place café, was also shutting his business earlier than normal. “There used to be 15,000 people through here. Now there are a couple of hun- dred,” he said.

The first week back was good but after that custom died off. “In the first week I was so hap- py, but the second week was a disaster.”

He said he had been talking to his friends in Spain and they reported the same pattern in Madrid. Business took three months to recover.

The cafe depends on workers, students, tourists and locals in that order. He wished he had time to focus on the stories, but staff have reduced from nine to three, sometimes just him.

One poignant moment occurred in the first week of opening when Tarni and Maggio Borg came shopping for baby clothes and stopped off for lunch.

The mother and daughter had not seen each other for four months. Tarni was 17 weeks preg- nant with twins when they were reunited.

Tarni lives in Ashwood and Maggio in Westmeadows, 35 kilometres apart. “We had to meet in the middle. We dressed up. I haven’t worn make-up for months,” Tarni said.

“It’s amazing how good it feels to have some fun things in the calendar,” her mum agreed. “Getting your head around post-COVID, get- ting yourself positive is the challenge.”

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