Plenty of stock as Oakleigh food traders look out for customers’ well-being

Fresh food traders in Oakleigh say there is no need for customers to panic as they have plenty of stock despite Stage 4 restrictions, with one shopowner describing last Saturday’s trading as “pandemonium”.

But traders were concerned for their customers’ spirits as they faced another six weeks of restricted movement, this time in hard lockdown.

The owner of Crystal Poultry Oakleigh, Anthony Symergelis, said business had increased by 25 per cent last Saturday, a day before the Victorian Government introduced Stage 4 restrictions.

“Saturday was pandemonium,” he said.

“I’m not exaggerating at all. People panicked a lot.”

Mr Symergelis said shops in the fresh food business had never been busier than since the start of the pandemic in March, and anyone who said otherwise was telling “fibbies”.

“March was our biggest month in gross sales since we started the business,” he said. “It’s even surpassed Christmas.”

The Victorian Government announced Stage 4 restrictions last Sunday afternoon after a week of record coronavirus infection rates and mounting deaths.

Stage 4 restrictions allow grocers and fresh food shops, like butchers and fish and poultry shops, to continue trading, but restricts people to only travelling within a 5km-radius of their home.

Mr Symergelis’ shop is in Oakleigh Central, but has its entrance at the top of Melbourne’s famous Hellenic precinct, Eaton Mall.

He said he had the shop for 17 years, but had been working in businesses since he was 13 years old. Now 64 years old, Mr Symergelis said he had never seen such economic times.

Mr Symergelis said his business hours were the same as usual and fresh food was the last thing to run out, so people did not have to be anxious.

“As long as they are killing chickens, we will have stock,” he said.

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Mr Symergelis said his advice to struggling businesses was to change their business and produce something else or to persevere with their current model until the good times returned.

“It will take six months to a good year before things stabilise,” he said.

“We have to get used to living with it (coronavirus).”

The owners of Limnos Butchers, brothers Thomas and Chris Droutsis, said their shop in Portman St, which is opposite Eaton Mall, was also trading as usual.

Mr Thomas Droutsis said it was still early days, but except for a few products, the shop had full stock.

Mr Droutsis said his customers came from beyond a 5km-radius of the shop, and if there was demand, he could deliver upto a few suburbs away in Malvern. Customers could also pre-order, he said.

The Droutsis brothers and their staffer said they were concerned about people’s mental health.

Mr Thomas Droutsis said people needed to stay positive during the hard lockdown.

“It’s affected a lot of people mentally,” he said.

Mr Droutsis said people had a “short fuse” as they were stuck at home all day.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” he said.

The staffer, who did not want to be identified, said people were overloaded with responsibilities.

“Customers are home schooling, and working from home and doing the cooking and everything else,” he said.

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The trio hoped the Stage 4 restrictions would work.

“Best of luck,” Mr Droutsis said.

His brother Chris said people should look after themselves. “If you are sick, stay home,” he said.

The owner of Prahran Seafoods on Portman, Mr Jim Samiotis, said he had never seen businesses generally so affected and people so anxious.

“Never. Since 1974, in the wholesale markets, in retail, I’ve never seen it like this,” he said.

“People are panicking a lot.

“They haven’t learnt to stay at home doing nothing.”

Mr Samiotis said the shop had plenty of supplies of seafood and people could pre-order if they didn’t want to wait. The shop also practised safe hygiene and had in-store customer limits, he said.

In the business for 30 years, Mr Samiotis also runs Prahran Seafoods, in Prahran Market, said he understood that people were upset and needed encouragement.

“I smile,” he said.

“It’s not the end of the world. It’s bad, but we are still alive. We are still thinking about the future.”

*At the time of writing, the total national coronavirus cases was 18,318, of which 11,937 were in Victoria. Australia has recorded a total of 221 deaths from the deadly virus, 136 of which have been in Victoria.

Stage 4 restrictions allow essential shops like supermarkets, butchers and fish and poultry businesses to remain open. Most other industries and shops will be forced to close as of midnight tonight (Wednesday 5 August) or by the weekend. The restrictions also include an 8pm curfew and residents keeping to within 5km of their home, except under exceptional circumstances.