Hospitality operators slam council's move to allow Halls Gap pop-up-bar over Easter

SITE IN QUESTION: The public land next to the Halls Gap Visitor Information Centre was used for the German pop-up-bar. Picture: Peter Pickering
SITE IN QUESTION: The public land next to the Halls Gap Visitor Information Centre was used for the German pop-up-bar. Picture: Peter Pickering

Northern Grampians Shire Council’s decision to allow “an outside” pop-up-bar to operate at Halls Gap during the Easter long weekend negatively impacted town trade, hospitality operators in the area said.

Wunderbar set up its pop-up-bar on public land, beside the Halls Gap Visitor Tourist Information Centre, and operated from Good Friday until Easter Monday.

Northern Grampians Shire Council said the bar was approved and met all regulatory requirements.

But Halls Gap Hotel owner Matt Humphries said the bar’s “prime position” at the centre of Halls Gap affected trade for other businesses.

“We certainly had a decline in our bar sales,” he said.

“We have just spent $300,000 on renovations to accommodate for the influx of extra tourists over the Easter long weekend and this outsider bar got the prime position in the middle of Halls Gap.”

Mr Humphries also said “exorbitant” public holiday rates meant making profit was a lot harder. 

“They were offering beer for half price on Easter Monday, while we were paying public holiday rates to our extra staff, how can we compete with this,” he said.

“We pay a huge amount of rates every year and a pop-up-bar comes in and sets up on the busiest weekend in town and doesn't have to pay any rates or fees.”

Northern Grampians Shire Council Mayor Tony Driscoll assured all regulations had been complied with.

“I think it’s recognised that some operators chose to close over the Easter period, so decisions needed to be made in order to provide a relevant service,” he said.

“The Halls Gap Hub was developed to allow for this kind of operation and we did call for expressions of interest for a permanent commercial operator.”

Kookaburra Hotel owner Rick Heinrich said local government needed to support trade in the area.

“The council’s first duty is to your ratepayers and not some opportunistic outside operator,” he said. 

“This decision sets an intolerable precedent and is unacceptable to the whole of the business community.”

But Cr Driscoll said Halls Gap needed certain visitation and word-of-mouth marketing as the tourist town evolved into an international destination.

“We don’t want people not returning because they can’t get a range of food, drinks and amenities.”