Springvale businesses grounded

Springvale businesses are struggling.

By Jonty Ralphsmith

The aroma of freshly roasting coffee beans is strong in the air and the gentle hum of milk frothing forms the undertone of this chic, open-plan Springvale cafe.

Scrubbed seats and polished tables lay in waiting and people engage in discussion.

The issue is, the only people conversing are a Star Journal reporter and a café employee in an otherwise empty store.

The dispiriting subject of conversation, the state of the businesses in Springvale, belies the inviting and appetising vibe of the café.

For so long, there was a push for density limits to be eased, yet now that they are, it is being adhered to inadvertently due to a lack of patrons.

The Springvale main strip is still struggling to attract customers and foot traffic remains significantly down, 210 days since the last lockdown ended.

Springvale’s Gloria Jeans was the only café or small business in Springvale that Star Journal observed where there was a line of people waiting to order.

Star Journal spoke to employees and owners of about 15 different businesses in Springvale on Thursday 19 May during trading hours. Hearing the bell ring and seeing their door open prompted a warm greeting and smiling invitation – a person arriving seemed cause for mild celebration and the subsequent discussions suggested as much.

“Look around, there is no-one here,” said one crestfallen business owner. “We are thinking of selling because customers still aren’t coming back.”

A few doors down, another business employee commented: “You can come and sit here any time, you’ll see that no-one comes past.”

Those comments were representative of the difficulties being felt across the state, but particularly in Springvale.

At the 2016 census, unemployment figures in the suburb were 5.1 per cent higher and 6.3 per cent fewer people were employed full-time, than the state average.

Speaking anecdotally, businesses said people don’t have money to feed in to the local eateries and it has a widespread affect.

Hospitality is crucial in Springvale, with 5.2 per cent of employed residents working in cafes and restaurants; the state average is 2.5 per cent.

To assist cafes, the State Government launched the Victorian Dining and Entertainment Program earlier in 2022, allowing customers a 25 per cent reimbursement on eligible expenses at cafes around the state.

Though, to claim the reimbursement, people need internet connection, and those with access to Wi-Fi at home is 6.9 per cent lower than the state average.

Moreover, such an incentive relies on people wanting to get out and spend more than $40. Business owners are increasingly being told by customers that they are happier at home, buying and ordering online.

That leaves small, independent businesses languishing as many spoken to by Star Journal said they did not have the funds to run or hire a delivery service.

There is also the issue of people perhaps not knowing the program exists.

Roadworks on Springvale Road along the shopping strip has led to the installation of temporary fencing, which multiple businesses in that area speculated was keeping customers away.

Springvale Ward councillor Richard Lim said a lack of parking around the shopping strip was also biting.

“I am advocating very strongly for more carparks, we are losing customers to so many suburbs and municipalities because there is no carpark,” Cr Lim said.

“So many people I speak to say: ‘I’d love to come because there’s very good food and groceries, and it’s cheap, but it’s so hard to find a carpark, Richard’ – it is something I am always getting complaints about.

“Hopefully that would lead to congestion being eased a bit.”

Cr Lim suggested multicultural performances as a means to attract people and get the local economy flowing again.

“They attract people, it’s something the kids can enjoy and then they will dine and buy groceries at Springvale.

“Springvale is a diamond that just needs to be polished.”