As Omicron spreads in the community, businesses are being hit hard – again. The ongoing pandemic saw spending in retail drop by 7.8 per cent last month.
Spending in the hospitality industry fell by 10 per cent in the last year.
This time it's different though, Whangārei business owners say. It's the quietest it has been outside of lockdowns.
"We have definitely seen a big drop," Idan Ben Ze'ev, owner of the Fat Camel Café said.
He said many of their lunchtime customers were working from home; regular foot traffic that brings in people keen on coffee has slowed right down.
"As kids are starting to get Covid positive, their parents are more cautious about coming into town. It feels like we're back in level 3."
Ze'ev was delighted to hear Whangārei District Council won't be charging parking fees for the coming six weeks because "any incentive to get people into town helps".
"Especially with the price of petrol," Fat Camel Café manager Sophie Wilkinson added. "The staff are also happy about it."
Motown Haircutters owner Ants Lydiard said turnover was down 40 per cent since February.
"It noticeably quieter. It will be blood on the wall in the next few months."
He said businesses in the Whangārei CBD were doing it tough as they were competing with big-box retailers at the Okara Park shopping centre which has free parking.
Dickens Inn owner Graeme Cundy said anything that could be done to get people into town would be great.
"Business is tough. It's very inconsistent since we went into the red light."
On James St, Fresh Cafe owner Vivian Qian said some of the regulars had stopped coming since Omicron.
And at Nook Espresso on Rathbone St, they are hopeful free parking would bring a few more customers into town.
"It's different to other outbreaks. There are not many people around," co-owner Scott Nicholl said.
He said when the council made a similar move at the start of the pandemic, it was good for their business.
"I'm hopeful it'll make a difference. It's about getting people to feel comfortable to come around."