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Soon after the pandemic began the sign out front of the Thornbury Picture House read: “Cinema closed until real life doesn’t feel like a movie.”
Now the message is a little less whimsical: “Stay strong, Thornbury. We love you.”
Under a Covid-19 roadmap announced by the Victorian government on Sunday, the independent cinema in Melbourne’s north will be among the businesses who will wait the longest to switch the lights back on.
“I’m just shocked that we’re the final stage to reopen,” says its owner, Gus Berger.
Along with beauty salons, gyms and music venues, it is hoped businesses like Berger’s will be back on 23 November. But that requires Victoria to have recorded no new coronavirus cases for 14 days.
The retail and hospitality sectors are expected to resume trading on 26 October, provided there are fewer than than five daily cases on average for two weeks.
Berger says he had not expected to be able to open up immediately but the longer wait makes a big difference.
“In order to get a film like Bond or Tenet, we’ve got to play it a certain amount of times for the distributor to give it to us,” he says.
He believes he could open safely, as he did during a “10-day moment of sunshine” earlier in the pandemic.
But the lack of certainty about whether the thresholds would be met is a problem. “It takes a while to start ramping up a cinema – it’s not just a question of turning on the projector and the popcorn machine,” he says.
“We’re a single-screen cinema so we work hard on programming … We don’t take every film that comes along like the multiplexes have the liberty to do. We really need to plan ahead.”
The response to the state government’s much-anticipated five-point roadmap has been, perhaps predictably, split. While the Australian Medical Association has strongly backed the plan, business leaders have been highly critical.
One group with a specific gripe is the beauty industry. While retail businesses, including hairdressers, are slated to reopen on 26 October, beauty salons must wait for the final stage.
Georgie Westley, the owner of a salon called Distinctive Features in Bundoora, is disappointed that hair salons have been deemed “more essential”.
“The reason why it really upsets me is that as beauty therapists it’s part of our course to be trained in infection control,” she says.
Quizzed about the distinction on Sunday, Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said the national cabinet had decided haircuts were considered more essential than beauty services. He stressed that he did not necessarily share that view.
But Westley says she believes this to be a “male-orientated decision”. “They all still have to get their hair cut,” she said of male leaders.
“And if they want to be in the media, I’m sure they don’t all want to have their long hair. I think it would be refreshing.”
Westley’s employees have been receiving the federal government’s jobkeeper wage subsidy for the eight months her salon has been shut.
“For someone like me with a large business, it’s going to eat into my savings but I’m going to be OK when I open,” she says. “But I have so many colleagues in the industry that have just had to close their doors.”
Paul Guerra, the chief executive of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, sounded a similar note of alarm on Sunday, warning that some businesses would go to the wall. He described the government’s five-point plan as a “roadmap to nowhere”.
Not all businesses owners share that view.
Jackie Silverman, the owner of the Melbourne cafe and coffee retailer Black Velvet Coffee, says she is comfortable with the roadmap.
“I would love to open tomorrow but it’s just not going to happen,” Silverman says. “I think a conservative approach is the only way to ensure there’s the smallest chance of another lockdown and the greatest chance of a future trade.”
Unlike some cafes that have managed to do a solid trade in takeaways during the lockdown, Silverman has been forced to keep hers closed due to a lack of foot traffic.
Some sales have moved online but in general the business has taken a “huge, huge hit”. She is particularly concerned about the federal government’s decision to reduce the jobkeeper wage subsidy from 28 September.
“Considering the state of lockdown, I’m actually quite confused how Victoria is in the same boat with jobkeeper as the rest of the country,” she says.
Garrity Hill, who owns the Otter’s Promise beer bar in Armadale, is among those planning to reopen as part of what will be a new-look hospitality scene in Melbourne.
Her bottle shop has managed to keep trading during the crisis but the bar has been shut for all but two and a half weeks since March.
“I’m not angry, I’m relieved to know what’s happening,” she says.
Under new rules, businesses will need to seat most of their customers outdoors. Aided by the improved summer weather, the government plans to work with councils to clear parking and footpaths to allow venues to spread out their seated customers.
Hill is in the process of applying for a planning permit for a beer garden, which she says could take months and cost up to $2,000. “If local councils wanted to help us, it would be good to have some process to help us fast track that,” she says.
More cash grants from the state government would also help, Hill adds.
Other hospitality venues have noted that they don’t have access to outdoor space. And the better weather is no help for businesses like the Thornbury Picture House either.
“It’s not like we can just take the roof of the picture house and suddenly we’re an outdoor cinema,” Berger says. “It’s not that easy, unfortunately.”
Source: The Guardian
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