The head of Oakleigh’s business body is calling on the state government to reverse its lockdown restrictions announced on Sunday in order to help the suburb’s struggling hospitality sector, including the area’s famous Eaton Mall Hellenic precinct.
Oakleigh Village Traders Association President Anna Sfrantzis also slammed the social media postings of a busy Eaton Mall, on Saturday 15 August, as misleading and said they had led to too many police patrols of the shopping centre and mall.
But Victoria Police has defended its actions saying the patrols have been necessary.
Ms Sfrantzis said the Andrews’s Government needed to ease restaurant dining restrictions within the month.
“Open up,” she said. “We want our 20 people inside and outside by the end of September. What’s the difference between walking around in Safeway?
“They (people) can touch all the products.”
The government’s extension of stage four lockdown to 28 September has caused grave concern to traders around Melbourne.
New modelling by the Institute of Public Affairs, based on jobs and wages data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the extended lockdown could cost the state another 260,000 jobs.
Based on the government’s road map, if all went well and there were less than five new cases per day for 14 days and health professionals agreed, hospitality would be allowed to have outdoor seating with group limits of 10, plus density limits, from 26 October.
According to this road map, hospitality would be able to open for an indoor seated service of up to 50 patrons, with a group limit of 20.
Ms Sfrantzis said the government’s road map announcements on Sunday were meaningless.
“The conditions are just throwing dust in our eyes, to shut us up for a while,” she said, adding her expectation that restrictions would be “dragged into Christmas”.
She said she was also critical of the high police presence in the shopping centre and Eaton Mall.
“We have been told off left, right and centre here by the police,” she said.
Ms Sfrantzis said police officers patrolled on foot in groups of three, “two or three times a day”. Some customers were intimidated by their presence and didn’t come to the mall, she said.
On Monday, 7 September, Ms Sfrantzis pointed around her to emphasise her case in point, showing that there were hardly any customers when Neos Kosmos visited her at 12.10pm – the most robust time for lunchtime dining during pre-coronavirus times.
“There’s three people here. It’s lunchtime,” she said.
Ms Sfrantzis said police approached her shop on Father’s Day, on Sunday 6 September.
“They looked at the cakes and said ‘What time do you close?’,” she said.
“I don’t know why (they asked).”
Ms Sfrantzis said her staffer replied that the shop closed at 7.30pm and the officers then left.
She said the social media photographs of a busy Eaton Mall, on Saturday 15 August, were misleading.
“They (the people) were just walking. They weren’t being serviced by our shops,” she said.
Ms Sfrantzis said it did not help that those photos were shown “over and over”.
“That was the worst thing anyone could do,” she said.
“Putting it in the newspaper even on the news.”
She said the Monash Council Mayor came out and supported the shopping centre saying it was abiding by the rules, but it didn’t seem to change things.
Neos Kosmos published reports and photographs the next two days on 16 and 17 August showing a virtually empty mall which locals said reflected the true state of the shopping precinct.
The date 15 August was on the busy shopping day of Saturday, a Saturday that also happened to be the day of the religiously-significant Assumption holiday known to Greeks as the Feast of Panagia.
In a written response, Victoria Police spokesman, Sen-Constable Alistair Parsons, said the patrols were part of the force’s strategy to keep Victorians safe.
“As part of Victoria Police’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, police units have been undertaking increased foot patrols, which have focused on stopping and talking to people on the street and conducting vehicle checks,” Sen- Constable Parsons said.
“We know the majority of people in our community have been doing the right thing and we ask that everyone continues to abide by the Chief Health Officer’s restrictions.
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“However, if you choose to blatantly and deliberately breach the directions of the Chief Health Officer, you will receive an infringement notice. It is crucial we all abide by these measures for the health of every Victorian.”
Oakleigh Police are stationed in the heart of Oakleigh shopping centre, at the corner of Atherton and Warrigal roads. Atherton Rd runs parallel to Eaton Mall.
Metropolitan Melbourne’s stage four restrictions are considered among the strictest in the world and are hitting businesses hard all around the city. Now, the restrictions which were due to finish on Sunday, 13 September, will be extended for another two weeks. By contrast, regional Victoria would have many of its restrictions eased as part of a five-step road map out of restrictions and into a “COVID normal” life.
“If we open up too fast, then we have a very high likelihood, a very high likelihood, that we are not really opening up at all,” Mr Andrews said on Sunday.
“We are just beginning a third wave and we will be back in and out of restrictions, in and out of lockdown, before the end of the year.
“Indeed, potentially well before the end of the year.”
Ms Sfrantzis, whose association represents 360 Oakleigh businesses including 50 Greek traders, said she hoped all the local businesses, including retail, travel, beauty and the professional offices, would survive.
She said she had not heard of any business closing down, and added that those that sold food were managing better tha the others because they provided an essential good, could make deliveries and could innovate.
Ms Sfrantzis said her shop was a case in point as, at her own expense of between $30- $40,000, she was renovating the restaurant to move the cakes glass display from inside the shop to outside at the front of the shop because “nobody wants to come into the shop”, she said.
“They are so scared.”
Ms Sfrantzis said customers didn’t need to be concerned about going to the eateries.
“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “Just come out with your mask.”
Ms Sfrantzis said with the 5km permitted travel limit and with most non-food businesses like professional offices, retail and beauty closed, locals were more important than ever.
She said on behalf of all traders, she wanted to thank the locals for their continued patronage.
“We have good customers and good people here in Oakleigh,” she said.
“They try and follow the rules. They come, grab a coffee and leave.”
Ms Sfrantzis said although times we tough, she was optimistic about the shopping centre.
“They’ll never kill Oakleigh,” she said.
“That’s exactly right.”