There was a story floating around yesterday that Auckland was dishearteningly "lacklustre" for the first weekend of level 1.
It marries up with pub owners in Wellington who said despite the Bledisloe and more people in town for school holidays, their takings were still down from expectations. The buzz in the city was not the same - hospo businesses were expecting a bit more.
Auckland hospo outlets claim the problem in the Super City is all the office workers are still not back in the buildings ... too many still working remotely from home. And that's dire for your CBD lunch bar, café and casual restaurant. No lunchtime punters, no daytime walk ups, and wondering if by nightfall anyone's going to bother.
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I was in town last week – reluctantly - I had to pick something up on Queen St and I can tell you this for nothing, how any car gets down Queen St these days is beyond me. The whole thing is road cones, bus lanes, roadworks and detours. How Santa and his floats are getting down there for the parade come November is beyond me. Unless he's travelling in a cycle lane, I'm not sure how he's getting down the city's main street.
But the shop I had to go into said lack of parking, lack of people, lack of cars being able to access the city, and a general lack of interest in the CBD was having a brutal effect on businesses. Staff numbers had been reduced, doors were closing, people were down in the mouth. And of course without the cruise ship passengers pumping up the street on foot, and without the tourists filling the inner city backpackers and hotels, she's a quiet old time that's for sure.
But not at the clubs on a Saturday night in certain parts of town. A couple of our kids headed out to a gig Saturday night, excited to finally be able to get out at level 1, and they reported it was heaving. More packed than ever, clubs chocka, people spending up large. But I wonder how much of that was novelty value first weekend back, versus a long term trend?
There's been criticism political parties aren't doing enough to help struggling businesses. One report cited a hospitality business owner saying "the sector feels forgotten"... that they want "the Government to step up and provide more financial aid". Is it a bottomless pit though? For how long can the Government be expected to prop up ailing businesses? Some of it actually relies on us, the inhabitants of these cities ... getting back out to support the CBDs.
But have our habits changed to hanging more in our suburbs now? Is the local café round the corner just a bit more convenient for brunch than driving into town? What will be interesting – and actually make or break for these businesses, is whether these habits have changed now forever, or whether we eventually do gravitate back into the cities.
Because if we don't, then hospitality business owners have every right to be very concerned.