“I UNDERSTAND the necessity to do the construction work and we were supportive of it but no-one is taking any responsibility for what is happening to people. These are people’s lives. People will be homeless for it and I want to ask council, how do you think that is OK?”
Fiona Richards doesn’t mince words when she describes how the light rail construction has “literally broken” her family’s small business, Vinyl Cafe, in Perkins Street, Newcastle.
She and husband, Neil Madden, who have a six-month-old daughter Harper, have built their cafe from scratch but after four years will close on Friday.
They are now unable to keep losing money because they say the road closures have reduced their foot traffic. They are unable to pay their energy bill, so power will be cut on Monday. And they are unable to exit their $770 weekly lease, which runs to 2020. The family is unable to make ends meet and facing a rental termination at home.
“None of [businesses] are against progress,” Ms Richards says. “What we object to is being left out in the cold and thrown to the wayside. People have lost so much. This is our first child and we are petrified.”
Ms Richards said the cafe was tracking well until the staging of the Supercars weekend, when she said Newcastle City Council had advised that race patrons would be ushered down Hunter Street, only to later find out they were steered toward Honeysuckle.
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“We lost so much money that we couldn’t recoup and then it’s been going down every since,” she said
Then came the road closures from the light rail work, including the recent half closure of Perkins Street.
“People just aren’t walking down the street,” says Ms Richards, who works full time in a women’s domestic violence service and is using most of her wage to pay the shop lease and rent at home.
With the former David Jones car park set to become a construction zone, parking is impossible and attempts to sell the cafe have failed.
“Council aren’t taking responsibility and we are not the only business that is closing or that has closed or that it has affected,” Ms Richards says. “We have tried borrowing money off family, we have done all we can to get through this.”
Tom Brown, owner of the Crown & Anchor hotel next door, said the cafe’s closure was “devastating” for the culture and character of the CBD and its community.
A Newcastle City Council spokesman said council “is open to suggestions” from small businesses of “how to better support them”.
Council had responded to complaints about parking via its Park and Ride bus service and promoting cheap all-day parks, he said, adding that calls for rent relief were a matter for NSW government.