The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for Australia and the city of Newcastle. In the June 2020 quarter, the nation’s GDP fell by seven per cent, the largest quarterly decrease on record. Unemployment peaked across the city at 11%, with young people, women and marginalised groups even more severely impacted. Between April and September 2020 an average of over 6,500 businesses per month applied for JobKeeper payments in Newcastle.
This downturn was reflected locally in the Newcastle’s city centre and Darby Street business precinct. As shown in the graph here, spending in local grocery stores and supermarkets remained buoyant throughout 2020, however the tourism, dining and entertainment sector was particularly hard-hit: spending in local restaurants and cafes during April 2020 was less than 25% of expenditure levels in December 2019.
There are indications the local economy has rebounded well: December 2020 retail spending in the city centre and Darby Street precinct surpassed prior year levels, and reliance on the JobKeeper wage subsidy has dropped by over two thirds. Specialised food retailing businesses in the local area appear to be experiencing a small boom period, possibly reflecting a pandemic-inspired shift in consumer preferences. However, there is still much volatility and uncertainty, particularly in the tourism and hospitality sectors. In coordination with the Newcastle City Business Association, the City of Newcastle has been targeting assistance at these industries. This includes the provision of free business recovery training and support (click link to browse available courses), and other targeted promotion for food services, dining and entertainment businesses. We welcome new ideas on how to support local businesses in this crucial recovery year, and encourage you to get involved in your local business community through the Newcastle City Business Association.