Hunter businesses report mix of boom and bust after Supercars

GRAIN Store owner Corey Crooks considers the Supercars the biggest boost for the city since the Newcastle Knights won the 1997 NRL Grand Final. 

“But times that by 25 and you’re getting close to what we have experienced,” Mr Crooks said of trade at his craft beer focused restaurant.

“Nothing else comes close.

“We’ve had 1500 in and out since Friday and have done a week’s trade each day. We had a feeling about what we were going to need and then doubled it. 

“We had a tonne of chicken wings – and sold out.”

More than 190,000 people attended the race over three days, but not all city businesses outside the official event precinct enjoyed the expected economic spoils.

Walking from Wickham Interchange along Honeysuckle Drive on Sunday, the first business the Newcastle Herald came to, MJs, was locked up after closing earlier than planned.

Raw Energy cafe owner Jenny Fenwick said Thursday was their biggest day in five months of trading but Saturday was “dead”.

“There was lots of foot traffic but they weren’t calling in,” she said.

“Today [Sunday] they know they’ve got a bit more time.”

Nextra newsagent owner Joel Gribble said while his trade was up – by more than 70 customers on Friday and more than 140 on Saturday buying mostly drinks, ice cream and sunscreen – it wouldn't make up for the recent downturn caused by traffic changes and light rail works. 

“We’ve had a great weekend, but it won’t make up for what’s been lost. They’ve killed the city.”

Mr Gribble said businesses were told months ago they’d be given information about flow-on trade in other cities, but it never arrived.

He said council’s advice to use public transport, road closures and warnings about parking had deterred locals from visiting the city centre. 

The Beehive cafe owner Omar Khan said he had “prepared to go gangbusters” and put on another three employees each day, but trade was down about 70 per cent compared to a normal weekend.

“A lot of regulars did not come as they thought it would be too busy,” he said.

“We ordered 100 kilograms of bacon and usually go through 20 to 30 kilograms, but haven’t even used 10 kilograms.

“Maybe next year they could have jet ski races, yachts or superboats on the harbour?”

The managers of the Honeysuckle Hotel and The Squires Maiden brewhouse also employed extra staff and agreed locals were staying away.

“Overall we’re less busy than expected,” Honeysuckle Hotel manager Amanda Quinn said.

“Especially during the day, the families aren’t coming and the racegoers just want to get to the track.

“We have peaks, but then suddenly it flattens out. It’s really inconsistent and has been really hard for us to plan.

“At night it’s the same amount of people but they’re mostly men drinking beer, it’s not the mixed crowd also drinking cocktails and champagne. Takings are down across the weekend.”

The Squires Maiden venue manager Chris Neighbour said they applied for a separate licence to open a 180-capacity pop up bar, but day trade was “almost non existent” and “Friday night was like a Monday night”.

“Tourism trade is high but our regular customers are non existent,” he said.

“We hit our normal capacity [excluding the pop up bar] for a few hours, but people were only stopping in for a beer or two and were then off again.

“It’s nothing like we expected.

“I feel like there was not enough discussion between Supercars, authorities, businesses and the community about what was going on and what was needed.

“We did not see much activation around here for something so large.”

The Dockyard Hotel – the closest venue to buses arriving from the Wickham Interchange and McDonald Jones Stadium – was the busiest in its stretch.

Owner Michael Dodd said he sold more beer but not as much in food as usual, mostly to out-of-towners.

He said he expected to take in about five to 10 per cent more than a normal weekend.

“I’m excited about the tourism it will bring –  that's how Newcastle will benefit.”

Closer to the race precinct, Harrys Cafe de Wheels’ Deb Nicholls said they had been “smashed” and sold quadruple what they would on their busiest day of the year. 

“We've been opening at 6.30am and not closing to 3am,” she said.

Inside the precinct, Customs House sold out private functions for 400 on both Saturday and Sunday.

2300 owner Peter Johnston said his coffee sales were lower than usual on Friday but about double the usual weekend trade.

“We usually do a lot of business between 5.30am and 7.30am but were doing nothing because the track isn’t open then,” he said.

“If we sell five bottles of Coke during a normal week it’s surprising, but we’ve sold at least 15 cases of cans each day of the weekend.”

He invited Pies to the Max into his cafe to sell food, as well as a league club to host a barbecue outside.

Foodworks did roughly triple its normal weekday trade each day and sold out of ice cream by Saturday night.

Outside the race precinct, Rowie's Hunter Street Bottlemart co-owner Shannyn Robards said it was the "busiest and best weekend we've had in 30 years". 

Further along Hunter Street Mall, Ground Floor had a “marginally” better than normal weekend, thanks to a decision to offer samples and $2 juices, but was left with excess avocados.

Beachaway had a “consistent flow” of customers buying straw hats and thongs, while the Crown and Anchor accommodation was fully booked and trade was above average each day.

However Good Brother, in King Street, posted a sign on its door saying it would be closed over the weekend “because it’s too quiet”.

Darby Street’s Coco Monde Chocolateria posted on its Facebook page the race had a “devastatingly negative effect” on small local businesses and they had “no choice” but to close on Sunday.