Rebuilding Christchurch business - your stories

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We're gathering stories about Christchurch small businesses rebuilding after the earthquake. Send us in your tips, resources, offers of help or questions that we can get answered.

Cafe owner Justin Good at his earthquake damaged cafe in Heathcote Valley. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Cafe owner Justin Good at his earthquake damaged cafe in Heathcote Valley. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Send your small business stories, suggestions, tips or help to nzherald.co.nz here

Click here or scroll to the bottom of the page for links and resources for small business.

Details of the Government employment assistance package are here.

The Christchurch Employers' Chamber of Commerce main earthquake information page is here.


Business.govt.nz has also published an online "Recovery Toolkit for Christchurch Business".

The cordon on Christchurch's CBD will not be lifted today.
It's still considered too much of a risk to allow public access to the area.
Civil Defence director John Hamilton says they have plans in place to phase out the cordon over three or four days.
He says they're going to divide the whole cordon area into five different zones.
He says to do that, they need to ensure every building in that area has been checked.
John Hamilton says once they're sure it's safe they'll be able to slowly open it up.

An Li, at Jenny's Dairy in North New Brighton, said there has been no help for the small store.

The dairy has had to throw away thousands of dollars of perishable food, having gone a week without power, she said.

The shelves are now almost bare and the fear of another large quake keeps the dairy from restocking.

But you won't find Ms Li complaining and the store remains open, supplying the hard-hit suburb.

"It's a pity no one has tried to help but it's okay, you just take it easy," she says.

Ms Li says her customers remain friendly, but they are under pressure.

"I just try to smile to everyone. I think there is nothing better than confidence.

"We should be positive to face this problem."

Alastair Burgess of Christchurch's Action Alarms says his team have been getting around town replacing security and fire alarm batteries in areas without power.

Burgess says alarms come with batteries built-in to survive short power outages, but they were unlikely to still be functioning given the power has been out for more than seven days.

Jeff Vesey, director of Christchurch commercial leasing and sales business, Match Realty, is already back to work.

Vesey said, "Many people are looking at the moment, especially office tenants from the CBD, who don't think they will go back."

The main problem Vesey is facing is finding new locations for the displaced businesses.

He said there is "very little space" available and many people are taking whatever they can find, with offices being set up in warehouses.

"The phones don't stop, but it's whether we can actually satisfy demands," he said.

Vesey said people are starting to panic because they think if they can't find a space their business could fail so they are signing leases for longer terms.

"We're getting people to step back. Space will still become available. Weaker retailers may say we need to get rid of our space."

Rents are also affected. Landlords are getting their asking rent, because there is so much demand for individual properties.

Elie Sawma from Salon E in Cashmere said they have been very lucky with both earthquakes, but have still had some ups-and-downs.

At the time of the quake, the salon was full with clients, who got out unharmed, despite products flying off shelves.

The salon was closed for a week following the quake as they were without water and the building needed to be checked.

Sawma said, "without water you can't do anything in a salon."

There was a leak in the building that needed to be dealt to before they re-opened.

Most clients were contacted fairly quickly as they have a text and email system, all of which have being rebooked.

Sawma said the salon would be pledging a dollar for every client seen until the end of May. All money raised will go to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal.

Craig Taylor of UCIT security alarms says a backup generator would be a good idea, but customers can also easily replace the backup batteries themselves by removing the front panel of the alarm.

He says these batteries can be purchased from electrical outlets or security companies.

"You can get up to a week on a good charge," he says.

Alarms should return to their normal functioning modes immediately when power is reconnected, unless they have been damaged.

Alarm companies are currently replacing parts of damaged systems throughout Christchurch, and replacing cables which may have been stretched as structures moved in the quake.

Burgess says he believes most buildings will have been secured by the police and search and rescue teams.

He has had lots of enquiries for new systems following the looting, and also many requests from current clients who have had to shift premises.

Action Alarms recommends contacting the police "straight away" following a break-in, then getting in contact with an alarm company.

Ralph Brown says his training company Skillset New Zealand is up and running again.

Brown says the major problem he is facing is having to work over the phone or use email to deal withsoftware issues, instead of being able to resolve them face-to-face.

"It takes patience but there are ways around it which we're working on" he said

"We are fortunate to be in the kind of business that doesn't depend on heavy equipment. All we really needed was a backup hard drive."

Skillset is offering urgent media training for companies involved in the earthquake who need to communicate with stakeholders. The company is also providing resilience training and Brown is running a blog to help families and workplaces deal with stress.


Work and Income New Zealand is providing an Earthquake Support Subsidy for businesses with less than 100 employees.

These businesses need to be based in the Christchurch district and unable to access the workplace due to damage, a cordon or an essential service that is not available.

Companies who are able to operate but are experiencing a significant loss of trade may also be eligible.

WINZ recommends that employers contact their insurer to establish when or if a payment will be made before they apply for the subsidy. If business interruption insurance payments are received, the Earthquake Support Subsidy payments will need to be paid back.

It is also recommended that staff be contacted to advise that their payments will continue before the application is put through.


Agnes Almeida from Xocolatl on Fendalton Rd is unsure about the future of her business.

Xocolatl makes handmade artisan chocolates which are enjoyed by people all over New Zealand.

After the first quake, the building Xocolatl occupied was yellow-stickered, but they were still able to use the kitchen.

Almeida believes the building will now most likely be red-stickered once the engineers get out into the suburbs.

She said it is "devastating", but she is still "really lucky" as all her staff and family are safe.

Her landlord has recommended they do not enter the shop because it is not worth the risk, but Almeida hopes to get back in.

All her antique metal moulds are currently trapped in the store and she had just received 125kg of chocolate for her Easter production.

She said she has had so much support and it is "just so sweet".

One man from Levin rang her up offering premises to work from.

"People in New Zealand are so amazing."

Almeida is originally from Canada and thought about leaving, but after taking a few days out of Christchurch she found she missed it and "felt really bad for not being there.

"Who thought people would be offering premises and homes?"

Almeida does not know whether she will reopen yet. She started the business four years ago, after years of selling her chocolates at various markets.

"It's up to me if I want to reopen."

But with the economic conditions, Almeida asks: "Do I risk it or cut my losses and do something else?"


The Department of Labour has advice for employers and employees of businesses affected by the earthquake.

It says many employment agreements may not take this unusual situation into consideration. This means it is very important that employers and employees are communicating with each other to establish their individual needs.

The department emphasises that an individual employee has the right to refuse to do work they consider unsafe.

The Holidays Act provisions may also apply: "an employee can take sick leave if they, their partner, or their dependents are injured or sick and the employee has sick leave available".

"While generally wages are payable if the employee is able and willing to perform work and work is available", this is likely to differ in each individual circumstance," it says

If a business is unable to keep operating, employers may need to consider making staff redundant. "In that case, the procedures on consultation, good faith and other relevant matters in the Employment Relations Act apply along with other employment agreement obligations."

"In all situations, whether the business is likely to recover, or has to shut permanently, any changes to the employment agreement covering wage payments or redundancy need to be agreed to by both the employer and the employee before implementation."

Michael Hanna, director of accountancy firm HP Hanna & Co, would like the government to relax the laws on professional offices working from home.

His office in Latimer Square is part of the area cordoned off, and he says he is not comfortable with allowing staff back in the building immediately after the ban is lifted, even if it deemed to be safe.

"There should be some commonsense provisions that allow professional offices to work from home - even if just for a temporary period," he says.

"The [rental] cost of a CBD commercial property has gone through the roof. They're wanting to tie tenants into longer leases, which makes it very difficult for businesses who want to relocate temporarily while work is being done.

"If they are forced into long leases and high rentals, it will make it hard for people to come back into the central city," Hanna says.

Sarah English from The Sweetheart Bakery has decided to close down the business and head out of Christchurch for awhile.

The company doesn't have a physical store to worry about, but did have a lot of orders cancelled due to the quake.

English operates the bakery through farmers' markets and orders from the company's website and has found revenue is down.

At the farmers' market last weekend she said "50 per cent of stalls weren't there and customers were few and far between".

The Sweetheart Bakery uses a commercial kitchen to make all of its delicious goodies, which came through unscathed.

English said the company was "quite lucky" because she knows of some bakeries that have not fared well.

The Sweetheart Bakery will be back in operation on March 4 and heading back to the farmers' markets it used to frequent.

"For the people of Christchurch, it would be great to celebrate and continue with habits," said English.

"It would be great if people could support small businesses and go to markets as usual."

Sam Cowdy, in charge of commercial leasings at Canterbury's Cowdy & Company, says there has been a "frenzy" of people trying to find commercial workspaces following last week's earthquake.

"There is still some stuff out there but tenants might just have to go further out [of the city] than they'd like."

He says that as many properties are within the cordoned area, many tenants still do not know whether they are in a position to end their lease. As contracts may vary, he says the advice of a solicitor may be beneficial.

He also encourages anyone with available property to contact a leasing agent, as finding workspace will help with the recovery from the earthquake.

"The biggest thing we need is more listings," Cowdy says.

Janice Cowdy, in charge of residential property rentals at Cowdy & Company, says business is "really difficult, because there was such a shortage of properties before the earthquake".

She says a lot of tenants are leaving their rental homes because they are frightened, but they will have a difficult time finding an unoccupied home.

"We've got such a huge list of well-qualified people looking for properties right across the whole socio-economic board.

"My best advice is if they've got a rental that is in good order, they should stay put.

"Other people [without properties] should just keep pestering property agents."


Richard Winter, director of Italian restaurant chain Spagalimis, says restaurant staff can't access the main server and call centre set up in order to take orders and make deliveries, both of which are in the flagship store in Victoria St, which is inside the cordon.

Two of its five stores in Christchurch are closed - those in New Brighton and Victoria St.

He said it was "a bit tough without a call centre" to get the other stores fully operational again.

However, the Christchurch Employers' Chamber of Commerce has been really good, said Winter.

Spagalimis has registered with the chamber of commerce and they have been told they can get in at some stage to get that equipment.

"Hopefully in the next 48 hours. It's important to get the business ticking over again."

The main restaurant area in Victoria St "a shambles" and he has "never seen anything like it".

Winter was allowed in briefly following the quake to gain important information to contact more than 50 staff the stores employ.

The store had just received 39 cases of wine, which were to be distributed around the other stores, all of which are now gone.

"I can understand why we're not allowed in, but there's food left out."

When the quake struck, they were in the middle of lunch. There are half cooked pizzas and they want to get in and start to clean that up.

For Winter and his team, it is the little things that keep coming up. They are starting to run short on pizza boxes because they can't get in to where they are stored.

But for the most part, Spagalimis is "pretty on track" and they are looking on the bright side. "We need to rebuild the centre of Christchurch and get it back up and running. We're lucky in a way, we can completely rebuild. It may suit us better in a modern world," said Winter.

Gregory Head, General Manager at Triton Security, says his company has been devoting resources "to life as opposed to property - where we can."

Head says the company has been looking after the Canterbury District Health Board and is making sure that resources are focused on their requirements.

He says he expects there will be some businesses that require a static guard once the cordon is lifted on the central city.

"Electricity could be an issue with burglar alarms - I know the police are taking all reasonable steps to make sure businesses are secured.

"[The lifting of the cordon] won't just be a free-for-all, it will be on a planned basis.

Business owners will need to advise security companies of their requirements, after consultation with the police.

The cordons are currently being maintained by the New Zealand Police with the help of some Australian police officers and the New Zealand Army.

Recover Canterbury is showing links for business to business support.

StopPress is running an "Open for Business" directory - for marketing and media comapnies in the Christchurch area.

For IT business based in Christchurch a website has been set up for requests and offers of help
You are able to sign in using Facebook and Twitter IDs.

Offers of help for businesses in Christchurch are here

Requests of help from businesses in Christchurch are here

There is also a section, for after the initial recovery, where people can organise new projects to be started in Christchurch to try and help build the IT industry again in the city.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce has advice for businesses within the CBD cordon and on financial assistance to get back up running again.

A special website -nzbizhelp.co.nz has been set up for all businesses for requests of help or offers of help.
You can also follow them on Facebook and twitter.
You can sign up from the home page or more specifically:

A list of businesses that are requesting help is here.

A list of businesses offering help is here.

Businesses in the Selwyn district may be able to apply for assistance from the Government because of the quake.

Those that have lost substantial work because of the quake are eligible under the Government's Earthquake Employment Support Package.

This package will give subsidies for six weeks to businesses to help retain their workers.

Selwyn district is south-east of Christchurch beginning from Templeton out to Rakaia Huts and up through Castle Hill and Arthur's Pass, it includes Darfield.

Businesses can apply for assistance through WINZ.

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