Coronavirus: Route 66 owner Todd Male opens up in emotional interview about surviving 12-week lockdown

The owner of an iconic Auckland clothing store says it's taken "a bit of goodwill, a handful of sales, some Government money, a few prayers and hopes" not to go under during the longest lockdown of the pandemic to date.

It's not over yet, but the Government on Monday said it's likely that next week the city will be able to move to level 3, step 2 - allowing 'non-essential' retailers to open their doors. 

While health officials might not consider jeans essential, they're pretty important to Route 66 owner Todd Male. Like most other retailers the doors to his Newmarket store have been shut since mid-August, with only contactless sales under level 3 - a tough environment in which to sell tight-fitting clothing. 

"It hasn't been easy," Male told The AM Show on Tuesday. "The first six weeks was 'here we go again', but when it started to drag on it started to have an effect on me personally, I noticed an effect on some of the staff - just less engagement, wondering when this was going to end. Some tough conversations started happening with suppliers I couldn't pay… It's been a tough one, a real tough one."

Under step 2, retail can open again - customers have to observe physical distancing guidelines, and both they and staff have to don masks to reduce the risk of infection. The Waikato's moving to step 2 on Wednesday, and Auckland is pencilled in to follow a week later.

"Semi-excited, semi-energised, a bit relieved, said Male, who started working at Route 66 in the 1980s and has run the store since 2000. "Mixed emotions, actually. It's been a long 12 weeks, but overall I'm very pleased to be able to open the doors next Wednesday morning." 

AM Show host Ryan Bridge told Male he looked "a broken man", in contrast to previous media appearances. 

"On a personal level I've had some stuff going on which this lockdown has amplified, so I've had my own challenges," he responded.

"But I've just gotta get up every day and get going, and get that store back up and running. Hopefully Newmarket will get some support from locals, which I'm sure it will. Last time around there was some wonderful feedback from people just happy to see stores open again. 

"I've had some wonderful conversations with people when they've rung up and ordered online, or I've met people for click and collect. No one's been in a hurry, everyone's shared their own whatever's going on. 

"There's some beautiful human beings out there, so I've really taken a bit of heart from that. We'll get there - we'll just get the place tidied up and ready for next Wednesday morning." 

Industry group Retail NZ has called for Auckland retail shops to be allowed to open alongside those in the Waikato this Wednesday. 

"There is no compelling reason for retail not to open, as the Government has previously announced it would be able to do," chief executive Greg Harford said in a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern before Monday's announcement.

After the week-long delay to reopening was revealed, Harford said retailers were "pleased", but bemoaned the lack of consistency for close-contact businesses - noting physiotherapists could operate, but spa and massage services couldn't.