Traders back in business after Hunter lockdown eases

By Max McKinney
Pictures: Marina Neil

Consumer hesitancy to shop amid potential crowds and wet weather might have subdued "freedom day" trade at the city's major retail sites, but traders couldn't be happier to be open again.

Retailers in shopping centres and along business strips swung open their doors yesterday for the first time in more than two months.

Janice Musumeci, owner of ladies fashion and gifts store July Jones on Beaumont Street in Hamilton, said it felt like "time had stood still" returning to her store to prepare for reopening.

"It's the worst possible weather but I've been really happy with the response from my regular customers," Ms Musumeci, the Hamilton Business Improvement Association's former chair, said.

"It's heartwarming. I'm quite emotional to see people back in the store because when it shut down on August 5. I probably wasn't alone in thinking maybe I'm not going to get through this. But I've had government assistance and that's certainly helped. We're out the other end now ... it's been a tentative start."

Much of Charlestown Square and Westfield Kotara resembled a ghost town during lockdown, but foot traffic returned yesterday and for businesses like Choux Patisserie, that means everything.

Owner Tara Poelaert said the lockdown made her and her husband Nic consider if their business could have an online presence, but she said it wasn't really feasible.

BACK IN BUSINESS: Tara Poelaert and her husband Nic, who own Choux Patisserie in Charlestown Square, speaking with customers on Monday.

"For many other businesses, that's not such a problem," she said. "But with the type of product we make ... with real fruit, cheesecake, mousse and so on, it's not something you can just fire up the oven to make a few pieces at a time. We just remained closed and tried to put the kids first."

Ms Poelaert is hoping trade throughout the centre returns to normal sooner rather than later as most of her customers are workers.

"I'm excited. It will be so nice to see all of them again, and our other customers. We hadn't anticipated lockdown would go as long as it did. It's just nice to get back and feel like we are doing something for ourselves again.

"Everyone seems happy to be out having a stroll. Everyone is abiding by the masks and we've had no issues with people checking in."

MASKS ON: Choux Patisserie owners Tara and Nic Poelaert. Picture: Marina Neil

Grant Perry, 42, and his partner Iri Finn, 45, visited Charlestown about 11am. The duo, from southern Lake Macquarie, took advantage of Mr Perry - a roofer - not being able to work in the rain.

"It wasn't as busy as I thought it would be," he said.

So great was the urge to shop after lockdown, Mr Perry bought eight pairs of shoes - a product he was not comfortable buying online.

"You want to see them, you want to touch them, you know?" he said, adding the couple were "well and truly" over lockdown.

He said they would be "going to get a steak" later on.

Charlestown Square centre manager Kate Murphy said her team "couldn't be more excited to welcome both our retailers and shoppers back to the centre".

"There is so much to look forward to with health and beauty services, entertainment and general retail re-opening as well as the festive season just around the corner," she said.

Ms Murphy urged shoppers to have pertinence when asked to prove they are vaccinated and to check-in.

"The safety of our staff, retailers and shoppers is our number one priority and we have followed NSW government guidelines to ensure a successful re-opening," she said.


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