A butcher, baker and candlestick maker were all hard at work in northern New South Wales when two major floods five weeks apart swept their incomes out to sea.
Now they’re trying to get back on their feet, but they say government help has been hard to come by.
Trying to navigate paperwork and cut through red tape has left some businesses wondering if they’ll fit the criteria for financial aid.
Brad the butcher
Brad Holloway is in the process of rebuilding his butchery in the Lismore CBD, at an estimated cost of about $500,000.
He said he hopes to be eligible for the $200,000 business grants.
“You need over 20 equivalent full-time employees … we have 25, some of them are casual, looking at their hours they all work, we just scrape in,” he said.
But Mr Holloway said he would struggle to afford the cost of rebuilding.
“You need a little bit of money up your sleeve to be able to cop a hit like this,” he said.
Mr Holloway said from a business perspective, he did not need to reopen in Lismore but wanted to support the town.
“In my gut I don’t feel like I want to be a business that threw my hands in the air. I’ve got people I’d like to still employ, a positive business to resurrect.”
He hopes to reopen in six to eight weeks.
Sandra the baker
Sandra Arts was met by a line of customers when she reopened her bakery in Woodburn this week.
“Everyone’s so excited and the amount of people coming off the highway … to support us, it’s been fantastic,” she said.
The first flood in early March peaked above her shop ceiling.
Ms Arts estimated she paid at least $20,000 in repairs without any government assistance.
“When COVID was on, a small business was defined as a turnover of under $50 million, which obviously a bakery goes nowhere near, but they didn’t have a cap on staff,” she said.
“This time a small business is defined as a turnover of $50 million and under, but fewer than 20 staff and I’ve got 42 staff.”
Despite being ineligible for the small business funding, she said she was determined to reopen for her children and her 21 employees that “lost everything”.
“It’s good for their mental health, it’s good for their wallet, because even though the government’s helping, it’s still not enough when they’ve got a whole house to rebuild,” she said.
Melanie the candle maker
After a decade of market stalls, Melanie Connell was about to celebrate her first anniversary in a permanent store in Lismore when the February 28 flood hit.
“I just worked two jobs, head down, bum up, for a lot of years,” she said.
When the opportunity to open her own shop came up, Ms Connell “had to have it”.
Now with boxes of candles piled in her living room, she is operating online until her shop can reopen.
Ms Connell said the income from online sales was a fraction of what she brought in at her shop, yet it prevented her from receiving any income assistance.
“You’ve got to have tenacity and you’ve got to have drive because it’s hard work. It’s a lot of hard work.”
Governments accept need to improve
General manager of the Richmond Valley Council Vaughan Macdonald said businesses have told him they do not have the cashflow to repair and reopen their premises.
“Programs where they need to spend the money and then get the money back later from government don’t really work, that’s the feedback we’re hearing,” he said.
Federal Page MP Kevin Hogan said the federal government had made changes to accessing funding.
Small businesses eligible for $50,000 grants can receive the first $15,000 without showing proof of having spent the cash.
However, Mr Hogan said paperwork and bureaucracy was important to combat fraud.
“I’ve heard stories where money has flowed very quickly to a business that has applied for it, and then I’ve heard stories that it hasn’t,” he said.
Flood recovery coordinator Mal Lanyon said the state government was also taking feedback.
“I certainly acknowledge that some businesses have had challenges in getting some of those grants because of the criteria, and that is something that’s being looked at as we speak.”