By Gav Ross
BASS Coast Shire Council is refusing to compensate an Inverloch trader who claims to have lost thousands of dollars while the entrance to her shop has been blocked by footpath works.
Melissa Jenkins, owner-manager of Reilly Street health food store Green Heart Organics, says the situation has been made even worse due to the fact the council scheduled for the works to be undertaken during school holidays.
Whilst a small strip of bricks had been provided for customers trying to navigate their way into the store, it was difficult to spot since the shop’s entire frontage looked like a construction site, obstructed by orange mesh fencing and large trucks.
When the Sentinel-Times visited the shop last Wednesday, access to the front door had been blocked entirely.
Ms Jenkins was forced to improvise, tying green balloons and signs to the building’s side brick wall, urging customers to seek out the back door.
Had the problem been over and done with within a few days, she might have been more forgiving.
Unfortunately, the sorry saga has dragged on for over two weeks.
Ms Jenkins says that when works started on the first day of the school holidays, she noticed the difference in customer frequency immediately.
More specifically, they weren’t coming in.
“What we generally expect during the holidays is a little bit of an increase in customers and takings because of the amount of tourists around,” she said.
“But I’d say we’re already down $1200 for this week alone, if I can compare income to the same time last year.
“That’s dramatic for any small business, particularly during winter.”
Doing the best she could in a difficult situation, Ms Jenkins posted updates to her store’s Facebook page and sent out information to customers on her email database, but each day grew worse as the works continued.
“I’ve been receiving phone calls from regular customers who are parked across the road, near the library, asking when we’re re-opening.
“They see the orange (fencing) and just assume we’re closed because they can’t get to the door.”
Ms Jenkins says she was first notified of the works via letter last month.
“When I first spoke to council about (the works) and the interference to my business, they said there would be ‘minimal interference’, with a day or two without access.
“Council said they were going to do it in small sections, so people could still walk around most of it.
“Then that first Monday came and they ripped up almost the entire path.”
Ms Jenkins said she’s disappointed by the entire situation since.
She said until now, she has always admired the shire’s support of local businesses.
“They run great business programs, such as mentoring seminars we can attend for free.
“I just would’ve thought a bit of support through this time might not have been too much to ask, considering they are spending $38,000 on a path already.
“Even a token $1000 would have made a massive difference to us – or not doing it during the school holidays!”
No sympathy from council
The council’s director of Infrastructure, Felicity Sist, claims no objections were raised when Ms Jenkins, the owner of the Reilly Street building and an Inverloch Business Association representative, met with council officers two weeks before works commenced.
“Everyone at the meeting was supportive of the proposed works when the details were explained to them,” Ms Sist said.
“Business owners were asked to contact council directly if they believed that any part of the works would cause a disruption to their businesses.
“When we spoke to the business owner, the timing of the works was never raised as an issue.”
Ms Sist said the council has no legal obligation to compensate Green Heart Organics for the disruption, since it is “a result of necessary works for the benefit of both the community and adjoining business owners”.
Ms Sist said the scheduling of works over the school holidays was based on the availability of resources.
“Council, like many other public authorities, has to maintain their assets or undertake risk prevention works.
“These works may cause inconvenience or disruption to the public which is regrettable, however compensation is not payable.”
The footpath is expected to be completed by the end of this week.