Big construction impacts small cafés

Construction and roadworks are a part of the daily commute for many in urban and metro areas, but the constant works are causing some cafés to suffer.

Ricca Coffee in South Australia has been affected by ongoing roadworks along West Thebarton Road for more than two years now.

“The construction has limited access to parking and road space,” says Martyn Smith, Owner of Ricca Coffee.

Work completed along the road has included replacing water and gas pipes, power lines and National Broadband Network installation.

To complete some of this work, the streetscape had to be torn up to reach underground pipes and wires. The pavement outside Ricca Coffee has yet to be relayed.

“Our customers need to walk across unpaved footpath to get to us,” Martyn says.

Ricca Coffee is not the only café affected by limited parking. Fifteen Pounds in Fairfield, Victoria has found itself in a similar position.

“We’ve got two major constructions going up at the same time, a 20-apartment and an 80-apartment building, both six levels,” says John Kanellakos, Owner of Fifteen Pounds.

“The construction has limited the parking and the tradies have taken up the allocated spots. They have paid the council to use the nearby carpark that was originally for our patrons.

Customers have said it is just too hard to get here because they can’t find parking so they avoid coming to the area.”

Fifteen Pounds has experienced a 64 per cent customer drop from 2017 to 2018, something they attribute to the construction scaring off customers.

Some cafés have not been able to survive their battle with construction.

Vivo Café in New South Wales announced earlier this month that it will be closing its doors on 24 August after years of dealing with the George Street Light Rail works in Sydney.

“It started in October 2015 when George Street was shut down to traffic and the buses were removed,” says Angela Vithoulkas, Owner of Vivo Café and Councillor in the City of Sydney.

“We had a bus stop outside of our café so that took away hundreds of additional customers a day.

Once construction began, hoardings went up so you could no longer see the business unless you were standing right in front of it.”

Even basic operational needs have not been met.

“I couldn’t get my rubbish picked up or my deliveries done,” Angela says.

The construction has even affected security and safety around the café.

“We’ve been at this site for 16 years and for the first 12 and a half years we’d never had any security issues. Now with the hoardings, no traffic and no mitigating measures we’ve been broken into and vandalised on a regular basis.”

Something all three businesses agree upon is a lack of government support in regards to the construction.

Neither Ricca Coffee or Fifteen Pounds have received any remunerations for the impacts of the construction. Vivo Café and several other small businesses along George Street did not receive any government assistance until the end of 2017.

“Until then, [the government was] denying that there was a problem even though it had been going on for years,” Angela says.

Fifteen Pounds has expressed frustration with poor communication over the construction.

“They are putting in new sewer lines so they are digging up the ground in front of us,” John says. “We received a notice telling us that job would be taking three weeks and they gave us four days notice.”

“That was meant to finish on the 8August. On the eighth, we received another letter saying it would be extended until the 15th. On the 17th, we received another letter saying it wouldn’t be done until the next week. This is what has been happening throughout this whole construction.”

As a result, Angela says customers have turned away.

“People don’t want to come here anymore because of the noise and dust,” she says.

“Why would you want to spend your breakfast, lunch or meeting time in an area where your food can get covered by dust or you can’t hear yourself think when you’re talking to someone?”

For every kind word of customer support, Martyn of Ricca Coffee points out there is someone you do not see again.

“People are pretty sympathetic, but it’s the ones who change their habits and stop coming that you don’t hear back from,” he says.

Angela has been campaigning for better representation of the needs and interests of small businesses in regards to construction works. She believes cafés and hospitality venues have been hit harder than retail or other industries.

“In particular, food and hospitality have been affected because we rely on our sites to bring us business. We’re location dependent. We’re not going to be able to sell online. We need people to come to us and enjoy their experience.”

Vivo Café will donate all sales from its last day of operation to Aussie Helpers, a charity supporting Australian farmers.

The team at Ricca Coffee have decided to try to weather the storm despite the adversity.

“You reach the point where you need to ask yourself ‘do I want to stay and bear it?’” Martyn says. “We say yes, but it is risky to think we’ll just be okay.

You realise that every customer needs to be valued because it is so easy for them to be turned away.”

Fifteen Pounds is not as optimistic, fearing the new construction could cause more problems down the line.

“They’re building cafés at the bottom of the buildings, so that’s just more competition for us,” John says.

The construction around Ricca Coffee and Fifteen Pounds is scheduled to be completed in early 2019.

Photo credit: Ricca Coffee

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