A plea from small businesses in Northland — please shop locally to keep them and the jobs intact while the Covid-19 scourge rages on.

While a small number of retailers throughout Northland have either temporarily shut up shop or laid off staff after a reduction in foot traffic due to the global pandemic, others employing fewer than five employees are ticking along due largely to a local consumer base.

Former bank manager Sharon George is helping Dargaville businesses with advice on, among other things, how to access financial support. Photo / John Stone
Former bank manager Sharon George is helping Dargaville businesses with advice on, among other things, how to access financial support. Photo / John Stone

The Water St Cafe in central Whangārei is one such business that has not so far been impacted by Covid-19.

"We have a nice little shop with a good interaction with people and a lot of them don't seem to understand this huge panic in supermarkets. Our customer base is people that work in nearby places where there's business as usual and people are still working from their offices.

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"So they shop locally which is important for local businesses like us. My heart goes out to those businesses that aren't so lucky, especially where there's high contact with customers and staff," she said.

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Former bank manager Sharon George is helping steer Dargaville businesses struggling in a number of ways, including paying wages, by advising how they can seek assistance from the Ministry of Social Development.

She has been advocating for a number of years now for locals to shop locally, especially during tough times.

"Shop locally as much as you can. If not, then shop in New Zealand to keep the local and
national economy moving. In saying that, businesses that can adapt quickly to the changing market of their consumers do well," she said.

George is offering her services free of charge and emphasised she was not trying to do the ministry's work or saying the government department was not doing its job.

"Work and Income phone lines are so busy and that's why I am happy to point businesses in the right direction. I am not giving financial advice but telling them whether they are eligible for government support and what the criteria is.

"We are all small business owners and all are in a dire situation so we need to put aside our competitiveness in order to get through this crisis," she said.

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George plans to walk into businesses in central Dargaville next week to see if she could help them get through this difficult time.

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stephen Smith said people should not just be conscious of shopping locally but also of spending their money on businesses that
deserved to be supported.

"We've always been a supporter of shopping locally but it could be misinterpreted by some people. If you want your dollar to stay in the local economy, then you should be thinking one step ahead.

"If a local business is not deserving of your support by offering value in terms of service, competitive prices, and going that extra mile, then I don't think locals have an obligation to support that business," he said.

Smith said being aware whether a business was national, multinational, or local was just as important.

The Ruawai Pizza and Steakhouse Restaurant closed its doors from Thursday as a precautionary measure and owner Paula van den Berg said her business would not re-open at least for a month. She has also pulled her son from high school.

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"We have people besides locals that come in and although we are vigilant and do sterilisation and stuff, once people walk in they use Eftpos machines and touch surfaces so I decided it's not worth it."

Van den Berg said business was tough in any normal month and she didn't know how her family would get through in the next few weeks without the main source of income.

Meanwhile, Northland Inc has launched a specialist Covid-19 channel aimed at helping
businesses that are feeling the effects of the outbreak.

It will focus specifically on Northland businesses whose operations have been or are likely to be affected by Covid-19, by providing pathways to advice and direction to the
appropriate channels of support."

The hotline number 0800 525 001 for the business support team will go live on Tuesday next week.