Businesses rebound

Will O'Connor, with Jeremy Sidhu and Archer Jervies. (Louisa Jones) 225155_15

By Luke Voogt

A laser tag group that made just $90 in six months and survived near closure amid COVID-19 is among many Geelong businesses now rebounding from the pandemic.

Next Level Skirmish had just one booking between when COVID-19 hit and mid-November, making the North Geelong business $90 in revenue, according to manager Will O’Connor.

“We were almost forced to close forever,” he said.

But semi-retired businesswoman Amanda Bennetts stepped in purchasing the business last October.

“When Amanda took over that saved my job and the business,” Mr O’Connor said.

“There was a sense of relief of having an income again. Amanda and I have been putting a lot of work in to promote the place.”

By December the business was exceeding its average pre-COVID attendance of about 60 people a weekend.

“Now it’s about 70 to 80 people,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Melbourne has opened up now so more people are coming down. They’re like, ‘we’ve been locked up for so long we just want to do something’.”

Ms Bennetts, a former high-level executive who moved to Geelong in 2016, hopes to purchase at least four more local businesses in a bid to save jobs.

“I was feeling a bit frustrated seeing the world falling apart around me and I wanted to use my experience to help,” she said.

Meanwhile on the Bellarine, Drysdale Cheeses is also rebounding from the pandemic.

The producer initially lost 90 per cent of its business after shutting its restaurant due to restrictions, according to owner Corinne Blacket.

But a ‘Bellarine Boxes’ initiative combining produce from across the peninsula and local restaurants that already used her produce moving to home deliveries helped the business survive.

“We just started packing everything instead of just packing it in,” Ms Blacket said.

Now business is picking up again thanks to the “marvellous support” of locals and Ms Blacket is set to install new solar panels at her cheese factory with help from a $5000 grant from council.

North Geelong medical equipment manufacturer Care Essentials initially suffered a 25 per drop in demand due to surgeries being postponed worldwide.

But managing director Abhay Sinha acquired eight new machines to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE), a market that boomed during COVID-19.

The company is now investing about $60,000, plus a $10,000 council grant, to begin manufacturing equipment to warm patients during surgery to gain a foothold in the US market, Mr Sinha said.

He planned to continue making PPE, even as demand for medical equipment begins to grow again.

“We are positioning ourselves as a permanent supplier not just for Australia but the World,” he said.

Geelong Chamber of Commerce president Mark Edmonds said most local business owners were feeling positive, despite “a touch of fear” about “the odd COVID-19 case popping up in Melbourne”.

But hospitality businesses in central Geelong relying on trade from office workers would continue to struggle with the state government this week delaying its return to work plans for private and public sector offices.

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