Coronavirus: Auckland's Dominion Rd businesses struggling under lockdown

Dominion Road.
Dominion Road. Photo credit: Newshub.

By Sharon Brettkelly of RNZ

One of Auckland's famous shopping strips is showing the signs of stress with sale and for lease signs filling many shop windows.

The normally vibrant, bustling stretch of Dominion Road is lined with hundreds of cheap and cheerful businesses.

But the owners say they are losing thousands of dollars a week under lockdown and many won't reopen.

"I don't think a lot of them will bother," said Colin Wigg, owner of Col's Cobble Shoppe. "I don't think the turnover for them and myself will be there for at least till Christmas."

For 45 years Mr Wigg has worked here fixing boots, bags and belts.

He's enjoying the enforced time away from his sole trader business that is tucked between van and truck hire company Metropolitan Rentals and a couple of empty shops with for lease signs.

"It's actually quite nice to not have to go to work. I've quite enjoyed the last two weeks. The money ran out last week, that's also a problem but I've got a bit of savings to go on."

The 200-odd businesses along this stretch from View Rd to Balmoral Rd are an eclectic mix of Chinese restaurants, cafes, banks, antique shops, charity stores and dairies.

The manager of Dominion Rd Business Association Gary Holmes calls the strip Auckland's world within a street.

"We've got so much diversity and variety in terms of ethnicity and ethnic representation and the different businesses along the road," he said.

"Their owners put a lot of time, effort, money and resources into building up a business… and then to suddenly have that wiped out by something that's completely out of their control is heartbreaking."

Michelle and Ali Arsan own Tasca tapas restaurant. They're working out how to keep afloat - to pay rent and other bills without an income - not just for the period of lockdown but for the next six months.

"It's not just what's happening now, it's what's going to unfold and what's the recovery time and how deep you can go down before you can recover," Ms Arsan said.

"It's going to be very hard times in front of us. We still want to survive, we've had this business for 13 years almost, we have a responsibility to our employees and this is our baby, we started from scratch and we don't want to lose our business," Mr Arsan said.

The owner of Mr Hao's Chinese restaurant, Paul Wong, only just opened before lockdown.

But just as he shut down here, his restaurants in Shanghai reopened.

"We're maybe 30, 40 percent down on business (in Shanghai) but during this stage we weren't forced to shut, we were actually forced to open because we're in big shopping malls there. There was no one around, it was literally a ghost town," he said.

He believes customers in New Zealand will be more confident about returning to restaurants because of the way the crisis has been handled.

Further south, past Farro, a few dairies, cafes and restaurants, a Tongan Methodist church, a building site with a giant crane, and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra headquarters is Chris Hammonds' business Mondo Travel.

The shop front displays colourful posters of a giant cruise ship, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and London's Tower Bridge.

But Hammonds is not taking any bookings, he's busy cancelling trips for customers.

"Today, just to be alive is costing me about $1,000 a day after the subsidy on salaries and rent and so on.

"So after 12 weeks that's $60,000. There's not a lot of small businesses that have got equity to sustain themselves. I'm fortunate that I do have, but the longer this thing goes on the harder its going to be to survive," he said.

Some businesses will be able to start again and turn the tap on, others will take longer but some won't come back, he said.

"There's a lot of empty buildings along the strip now and there's going to be a lot more, I suspect."

Laying off staff is the most difficult and stressful part, he said.

Hammonds, who chairs the Dominion Rd Business Association, said the group is working on support for the 200 business owners including a promotion urging residents to back their local shops and restaurants.