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Hard times . . . Badger & Mackerel Messhall Espresso owner Bevan Smith said business has been slow since Omicron came to town. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

‘‘If we’re operating at this time next year, you can count that as a win,’’ Oamaru cafe owner Bevan Smith says.

Hospitality businesses in the Waitaki are struggling to catch a break as Omicron arrives in the community.

As owner of Badger & Mackerel Messhall Espresso, Mr Smith said there had been ‘‘a huge drop’’ in customers since Covid had arrived.

‘‘We always get a few people for lunch, but it’s just the mornings and the afternoons — it’s a ghost town, really,’’ he said.

The eatery was closing at 4pm instead of 5pm, and may close even earlier. This was the time of year when the business was usually ‘‘really pumping’’ with summer trading, and having winter just around the corner was a worry.

‘‘This is the time to make hay while the sun shines, and it’s not happening. It is a big, big drop.’’

He was trying to stay positive, and just ‘‘get through it’’.

‘‘It’s not like you can blame anyone, it’s the way it is, it’s happening everywhere. We’ve just got to get through it. We’ll be right.’’

Cucina restaurant, Del Mar Eatery and Tees St Cafe owner Yanina Tacchini echoed Mr Smith’s concerns, and said she could barely pay wages.

‘‘There are no customers . . .it’s super hard,’’ Mrs Tacchini said. She estimated Cucina takings were probably 60% less than usual.

Del Mar hours had been reduced on Monday and Thursday to just dinner service, while remaining open for lunch and dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Mrs Tacchini would apply for the government subsidy, but the money would not cover last week’s wages, and they had been really struggling for about four weeks.

‘‘It’s been really hard to pay the bills right now.’’

Finding staff had been an issue since the borders closed, but now they had staff without work.

‘‘Right now, it’s a really, really horrible cycle,’’ she said.

‘‘We need people out and happy, and you know, wanting to catch up with their friends, and just have that again.

‘‘But, we will get through it.’’

At a Waitaki District Council executive committee meeting this week, business attraction and recovery manager Melanie Jones said spending in Waitaki’s food and beverage sector showed a major decline in January this year, down 22.2%.

‘‘Hospitality has been suffering significantly,’’ Mrs Jones said.

‘‘I think that’s people staying at home and not going out, and just fewer visitors coming in.’’

The rising costs of living would also be having an impact, she said.

Spend on groceries and liquor, and fuel and automotive, showed doubledigit increases compared with a year ago — 11.1% and 36.3% respectively — and reflected record-high petrol prices and shopping costs, which were putting household budgets under pressure, she said.

Oamaru Business Collective chairwoman Cara Tipping-Smith said she had heard there was quite a lot of variation in hospitality — some days and times were busier than others.

‘‘The most important thing right now, is to try to support our local businesses. If you can’t go in and buy something, consider giving them a great review on Facebook or Google. Like or share their posts,’’ she said.