Northland cafes and restaurants have been "thrown a lifeline" by a not-for-profit website whipped up to bolster local businesses through the Covid-19 pandemic.
SOS Cafes - which stands for Save Our Special Cafes – was set up by Auckland senior government official David Downs on March 24 to help struggling businesses through the lockdown, which has seen all non-essential businesses close.
Businesses can join the website and sell gift vouchers worth $5, $25 or $100 to customers, which they can redeem when they re-open.
So far 22 Northland cafes and restaurants have signed up.
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The owner of 39 Gillies St Cafe in Kawakawa, Cathryn Baragwanath, said loyal locals have so far bought 12 vouchers worth around $500.
"We're lucky we live in a community who are really supportive," she said.
"For us, when there's nothing else, that's massive. As a business in a small rural town it's a lifeline."
Baragwanath said she has managed to keep all her staff thanks to the Government's wage subsidy.
But the ongoing costs of owning a business don't stop, she said.
She urged residents to "stay local, shop local, reboot, revive and survive".
"The business may have stopped but ongoing costs still exist; the rental lease, insurance, all those things still exist.
"From a moral point of view SOS Cafes have done a phenomenal job of providing hope. The wage subsidy is helping alleviate things in terms of staff. But in terms of business you're haemorrhaging."
Downs, the general manager of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, came up with the concept after feeling "a bit helpless" when the alert level 4 lockdown was announced on March 23.
The website was launched the next day, and the response has been "overwhelming", he said.
"I thought about the hundreds of cafes and small businesses who would suffer and what I could do over the next four weeks to help out.
"While they can get Government help with the wage bill that's nowhere near enough. Many of these small businesses are running on small margins ... we've got to help them live as long as they can."
As at April 9, more than 1300 cafes and restaurants had joined the website, along with several hairdressers, osteopaths and massage therapists.
More than 6500 vouchers worth over $300,000 have been purchased.
Downs doesn't make any money from the initiative, which started with three volunteers and now has 12, including customer support people.
It has become so popular, Downs changed the name to SOS Business two days ago to include all small businesses.
"It's become massive now, we've got more and more people asking to join," he said.
"People are really appreciative knowing we're trying to keep their businesses alive.
"They're the heart and soul of the New Zealand economy and we need to make sure they keep going."
The Cakery at Tea & Tarte owner Louisa Lee said "a massive ups" to Downs and his team.
"What they're doing is amazing.
"It's having the support all round; it's for everyone. We want to see the cafe community stay alive. It's part of our Kiwi culture."
Lee is also grateful for the support of the Mangawhai community, along with her landlord, who said she doesn't have to pay rent this month.
"We're in a pretty okay position, there will be people a lot worse off than us," Lee said.
"I'm hoping that once we get the all clear, we can get the ball rolling and open, but if it's at level 3 we will have to have procedures in place.
"If it's any longer than two months, then it might be another ball game."
And if a business can't survive through the coronavirus crisis and has to close?
Downs said it's up to each business to deal with customers if they can't fulfil their voucher.
"That is a risk you take when buying a voucher. Our advice is that you should ensure you are happy to take this risk before you complete the transaction.
"These are their loyal customers buying vouchers. The customers know they're helping businesses have a chance of surviving. But there are no guarantees."