Stawell businesses respond to weekend protest

Stawell shearer Steven West assists Philip Scott place stickers protesting against the high number of business closures in the Northern Grampians Shire.
Stawell shearer Steven West assists Philip Scott place stickers protesting against the high number of business closures in the Northern Grampians Shire.

Another small business could soon shut its doors, adding to the list of Stawell stores which have already been forced to close in the last three months.

Veronica Clark owns Stawell Taxis and said the service could be the next to fall due to a lack of drivers. 

“The business has been around since the 1940s, but there is every chance it could soon go,” she said. 

“The demand is there, but there is a lack of drivers – we have no one to drive our vehicles.”

Ms Clark said Stawell Taxis would normally operate with 10 drivers, but that figure had plummeted to four.

“As an owner of the business I am having to drive seven days and I am completely exhausted,” she said. 

“We have advertised and spoken to people, but we just cannot get anyone.”

The revelation followed business owner Phillip Scott’s decision to shut his store of 46 years on Saturday in protest against the high number of business closures in the Northern Grampians Shire.

Mr Scott then plastered large stickers reading ‘Another business closes in the Northern Grampians Shire’, across the window of his shop, Scott’s Auto Electrics, on Wakeham Street.

The closure was the latest in a string of town businesses to close since December last year.

Ms Clark said she was considering reducing the size of Mr Scott’s stickers and placing them at the back of her taxis. 

“There are big issues in this area for small businesses and there is not a lot of support from the council,” she said. 

“The shire needs to show support of the troubled times – I have been to them before, but it comes across like it’s not their problem – the town is dying and they are not promoting it.”

Ms Clark said she had been invited to the council’s Business Master Class Series sessions, but argued they were at inadequate times for business owners. 

“I often cannot go because they are during the day and at these times I am trying to run my business,” she said. 

“Plus I don’t have many employees, so filling in is taking up my time as well.” 

Northern Grampians Shire chief executive Michael Bailey said timing and content of the master classes were decided after the business survey last year.

“We went with the majority and recognise this was never going to suit everyone,” he said. 

“There will be situations where council is unable to assist in the way the business wants us too. 

“There are limits to the support council can offer and in most instances it’s up to the business to evolve and maintain demand for their product or service.”

Stawell’s Brian Notting used to own Lillies and Lattes before selling the business in the lead-up to Christmas last year. 

While Mr Notting recognised businesses needed to evolved, he claimed council denied his store with an opportunity to expand.

“I sold the business because I had had enough of the council – they refuse to make my business better,” he said.  

“I tried to get planning permits to extend our trading hours for Christmas and to serve alcohol outside, but was instead told it would be a detriment to the amenities of the area. 

“We were keeping afloat, but if you can’t expand the business how are you meant to make money and grow even bigger.”

Mr Bailey said liquor licenses went through a formal planning process where the information was referred to relevant authorities and nearby residences. 

“The process allows the community and authorities to have their say, council then makes the decision based on the planning scheme and any relevant objections or referral agency responses,” he said. 

“If he is dissatisfied Brian could challenge the decision at VCAT.” 

Black Duck Cafe owner Peter Murphy said the general mood of the town was pessimistic and needed to improve. 

“We have been here for four years and it seems we build up highs like getting rid of the tyres, but then they were here so many years later and it’s the same feeling with Nectar Farms, people are convinced it won’t go ahead,” he said. Mr Murphy said something needed to be done about the vacant buildings on Main Street.

“You look out the window and it is a bit sad,” he said. 

“Rent in this town is too dear – it is just amazing at what you have to pay, for what you get.

“We own 60 per cent of this building and pay $1500 a month, plus rates – that is a lot of money.”

But Mr Murphy said staying positive was crucial, and even had plans to redesign his shop. 

“We are at the stage where we are about to modernise the shop and change a few things around, so we obviously have enough confidence to go forward,” he said.

Mr Scott’s action led to his protest stickers being placed on at least three other businesses.

He said he was leading the protest in a bid to encourage other small businesses to have their say.

“We have had to put up with inaction and a lack of leadership from the council over a long period of time,” he said.

Bolangum farmer Phil Lang said he had been a loyal customer of Scott’s Auto Electrics for as long as the business had existed, but the weekend’s closure meant farmers would be taking their business elsewhere.

“There are probably 90 per cent of farmers who can go in there and get the part that they want, you can’t go to many businesses like Phil’s,” he said. 

“When you’re in town the wife will then ask you to go to the shop and supermarket, but now with that business gone there are no other spots where you can go in Stawell.”

Mr Lang said he would now need to shop in Horsham or Ballarat. 

“Instead of coming to Stawell I’ll need to take my business out of the shire,” he said. 

In a statement Stawellbiz also argued Mr Scott’s actions would impact negatively on the Stawell township. 

“Stawellbiz would like to congratulate Scotty on running a fantastic business and his exceptional service to the town.  

“Individuals are entitled to express their views however I am sure a satisfactory resolution can be reached without impacting our Stawell township.

“Retail in general all over the world is seeing a major shift away from large shopping precincts to online purchasing.

“This online landscape has changed so quickly that businesses, malls, shopping centres are having to adapt to meet the customer’s needs.

“For Stawell’s retail strip, Stawellbiz and the Northern Grampians Shire Council are working closely to develop a plan to continue to see our town thrive and prosper.

“This process has begun with the Debra Templar Group, a retail consultant, expressing views on the town.

“We believe that customers expect more and require an experience, not only the opportunity to purchase goods.

“We will be looking for community feedback as well as engaging major stakeholders such as our building owners to deliver a prosperous and sustainable retail precinct.”

Mr Bailey said the best way to build business was with a positive attitude.

“We know our real estate agents can not get enough stock to meet demand, our tradesmen are hectic and our farmers are coming off a strong year with expectations of another positive return. 

“These are all positives that will drive confidence in the retail sector. Putting posters up with negative statements does nothing to assist the community.”

Mitre 10’s David O Jones also agreed business at Stawell was thriving with his store recording their best sales yet in the last three months. 

Lily Matheson, David O Jones and Tammy Walker from Mitre 10 are enjoying some strong sales. Picture: Anthony Piovesan

Lily Matheson, David O Jones and Tammy Walker from Mitre 10 are enjoying some strong sales. Picture: Anthony Piovesan

“Recently we have seen some of our best sales yet,” he said. 

“Obviously things are happening in the town if builders are coming in and buying whatever they need.”

Mr O Jones’s business grew from just four people when it first started, to now employing about 50 people between both Stawell and Ararat stores. 

“I think the future for Stawell is good – Nectar Farms looks like it will happen and there are many other positives.”

Pomonal builder Scott Spark said he was receiving plenty of work offers between Stawell, Ararat, Pomonal and Halls Gap. 

“We work in those four areas and across the board the building industry is thriving,” he said. “I’ve seen the business grow from just myself to employing six others.”