Staying open

By Rhonda Dredge

The small community of business people at the top of Bourke St is keeping itself going by staying open and giving each other encouragement through the hard times. 

Carmel Dwyer has kept normal hours at her newsagent even though takings are down 80-85 per cent.

A neighbour drives her in from West Brunswick so she doesn’t have to catch the tram.

And Simon Hartley, across the road on Crossley St, has turned Becco, his café, into a produce store specialising in Italian pasta, flour and brilliant red tomatoes.

Other nearby businesses such as Pellegrini’s have tried staying open with take-away and there’s a coffee window that is sometimes open opposite Becco.

“The neighbours hope to open next week to do pizza,” Carmel said, giving The Mess Hall a plug as well. Usually they have tables and chairs outside where she likes to socialise.

Most face-to-face contact, albeit at a distance, now happens over Carmel’s Lotto counter where customers come, looking for a change of luck and a bit of cheek. 

“What the hell do you want?” she asked a customer, one of the building boys. “I won’t be here for long,” he replied. “I never win anything.”

Carmel has sold 12 first-division Tattslotto tickets and she’s proud of that achievement. She hopes to sell one during the lockdown. Two bottles of champagne are on the shelf behind her, gifts from past winners. 

”When the shelf’s full, we’ll shut the shop and party,” she said. “Here it’s like a family. I’ve got beautiful neighbours and customers. Quite a few people are friends. It’s very social in this area.” 

The papers are still being delivered to her shop as usual. “The oldies need them. They don’t use the internet.” Everyone is welcome, even a mud lark who chirps on her doorstep and collects a biscuit.

Tony, who usually sits on the pavement across Bourke St doing the crossword, is still in his old place but he’s had to adapt to the changed conditions. He’s standing, instead of sitting. 

Carmel has been through tough times in the 40 years she has been at the newsagent but this is the toughest.

“I’ve never been here and seen the city so empty. It’s something none of us have experienced. I decided to stay open.”

She thinks there were a few more people about last week and office workers are occasionally popping in but she thinks people are still extremely nervous. 

“I will admit that I’ve got quite a lot of hand sanitiser. I’m not going shopping in any of the big stores.”

Instead, she’s directing customers to Becco where Simon’s income has now been reduced by 90 per cent. 

“We used to have a produce store here so it was easy to turn it back into one,” he said. “This is the dry store for the cafe.”

Instead of buying produce for the café, he is selling directly to customers and draws from the café’s supplies when he runs out.

“It’s something to do and you can come to work,” he said •

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