COVID-19: Local businesses get welcome boost with more Aucklanders working from home

COVID-19: Local businesses get welcome boost with more Aucklanders working from home
Photo credit: Getty

By Amy Williams of RNZ

Auckland's suburban shopping strips appear to be getting a welcome boost from locals working from home.

RNZ spoke to business associations east and north of the city centre who struggled during lockdown but confirmed there are now more people working from home, popping into their local town centre.

Spending data shows the city centre has been worst affected with a 40 percent drop compared with 15 percent across the wider region.

Avondale Business Association chair Marcus Amosa said there are more people visiting the town centre.

"Because a lot more people are staying at home they're spending more time, the afternoons and lunchtimes, in Avondale going to cafes."

He manages a tattoo studio and said people are spending.

"A lot of dentists are saying without people spending overseas they're spending it on their teeth and same with us here, on their skin."

He said most retailers survived the two lockdowns and he hoped people would continue to shop locally.

"When the mall opened up years ago it drew a lot of businesses out of Avondale which had a big impact here and I want more businesses to come back."

Exactly how many people are working from home in Auckland is unknown but so far the data indicates it's an ongoing trend.

Transport figures show there are still 10 percent fewer cars on the roads in Auckland, and Stats NZ figures show households' internet use is 10 percent higher than usual.

Sense Partners economist Shamubeel Eaqub provides weekly updates to Auckland's economic development agency ATEED.

"People are working from home more and that means the suburban shops and hospitality is getting a little bit of a boost. We have seen that in the data with consumer spending, CBD hospitality is down a bit more than the rest of Auckland but all of Auckland has been effected by the renewed restrictions."

Browne Street is one of the Avondale town centre's thriving third places - somewhere people go to hang out that is not their home or workplace.

Manager Rohan Mudgway said they have more customers coming in.

"We get some coming in after a cheeky beer in their pajamas and we think that's quite good. Setting up laptops in the corners and quite a few new regulars coming in now, they've got more time instead of going into town trudging through the traffic they've finally been able to spend some time at home and meet some of the other locals around here as well."

He said although people do not tend to spend more money, there are more regulars and the cafe feels like a community hub.

But it's not all rosy - its events business has been hit hard by the restrictions on gatherings.

"We were talking to a lovely couple who wanted to have their wedding celebration and reception and they were put off three different times because of the two different lockdowns," Mudgway said.

"We are taking a lot of punishment in regards to our events side of things but we are seeing a lot of people coming in for coffee, having a chat, sorting out their work here."

At least one urban design expert thinks people gravitating to stay local could be an opportunity to create a suburban utopia.

University of Auckland's deputy head of School of Architecture and Planning, Lee Beattie, says town centres could be revitalised.

"If people are prepared to forgo those major inter-regional-travel issues will we see a change in the dynamics of how our local high streets work? I think that's a really interesting question."

Dr Beattie is keen to research how working from home is changing suburbs or neighbourhoods.

On Dominon Road in Mt Eden, Auckland restaurant Cazador opened a deli next door after the first nationwide lockdown - its launch had been delayed due to Covid-19.

Co-owner Rebecca Smidt said locals are among their regular customers.

"It seems people are taking shifts with their colleagues, some working from home, some staying in the office and we hear a little bit of that in our daily banter."

She said business has ebbed and flowed with Covid-19 alert levels and after the city's second lockdown there was less of an appetite for discretionary spending.

"What a time to be taking a financial risk, creating a new arm of our business and something we've put so much thought and resource into and then to have it hanging so gingerly by a threat during these times has been so stressful," Smidt said.

"To be made to feel welcome by the community has been super humbling."

She said she feels for fellow restaurant operators in Auckland's central city who have born the brunt of lockdowns and fewer people travelling to the city.