It should be one of their busiest times of the year, but businesses in Derrinallum and Lismore are struggling to make ends meet after last month’s explosion on the outskirts of Derrinallum.
The explosion resulted in the closure of the Hamilton Highway between Lismore and Darlington as police experts comb through the bomb site, forcing through traffic to detour via Camperdown.
White Swan Milk Bar proprietor Eddy Farah said the closed road had “killed” his Lismore business.
“It’s absolutely killed it,” he said.
“On Sundays I’m down about $1000, every other day I’m struggling.
“All together, I’d be about $3000 down each week since the closure.
“I’m getting a few locals in but other than that it’s just people coming in asking for directions because the road’s shut.”
Mr Farah said he employed one casual staff member but did not know how long he could keep paying her wages.
“If it goes on much longer I’ll have to do all the work myself and we’re open from 7am until 7pm,” he said.
“This week is May Races. I should be getting 40 to 50 people in here each day but at the moment (Wednesday) I’ve had three people in two days.
“The highway has been closed too long – we have to get it open again.”
Derrinallum Takeaway owner Geoff Spillman said his business had experienced a “massive downturn” since the road closure.
“We’re 70 to 80 per cent down in our business,” Mr Spillman said.
“We really rely on passing trade, so not having it is having a huge impact.
“I still have casual staff working at the moment because we’re trying to look after them.
“The timing hasn’t been great because it’s been over what is normally our most busiest time, but there’s nothing we can do about it.
“We just have to accept what’s happened and get on with it.”
Henderson Motors proprietor Diane Henderson said the service station was “a good 50 per cent down” on normal trade.
“We’re down about 1550 to 2000 litres of fuel being sold every day since the highway’s closure,” she said.
“That might only be about three trucks filling up but that makes a big difference to a business like ours.
“We’re also down a good deal on all the extras we sell, things like lollies, drinks, oil, ice and portagas.”
Mrs Henderson said the timing of the highway’s closure could not have been worse.
“It’s been closed right through Easter, the Anzac Day long weekend and now the May Races,” she said.
“Over Easter there was just no through traffic here at all.
“We need those busy times to keep us going through the quieter and colder months ahead.”
She said the business was down $300 to $400 in profit each day of the highway’s closure.
“As a result, we haven’t had our three casuals working at the moment because there’s just nothing happening.”
Lismore BP proprietor Andrew Cartledge said there was a “definite drop” in his business.
“The last two to three weeks are usually our busiest time of year so we’re really missing out,” he said.
“We’d be down 40 to 50 per cent at least in business – there’s just no-one coming through town.
“Normally we would use this time of year to see us through the winter because it gets so quiet after the May Races right up until the September holidays.”
Mr Cartledge said another concern was the likelihood that travellers would get used to taking alternative routes.
“Some of those people will get used to travelling on different roads and may take a very long time to come back this way.”
Mount Elephant Hotel proprietor Glenn Parkin also described the impact of the highway’s closure as “massive”.
“We’re not getting any through traffic at all. Look up the street, there’s just no-one about and it’s been like that for three weeks,” he said.
“We’d be down 50 per cent in our business at least, most likely more.”
Mr Parkin said trade from Easter, the Anzac Day long weekend and the May Races got local businesses through the quieter winter months.
“We’ve lost that,” he said.
“We’re normally busy on the Thursday night of the May Races but we won’t get any of that this year – the traffic just won’t be coming through.
“And while people are being detoured through other areas, who is to say they won’t keep going that way in the future – we might lose them for good.”
Derrinallum Friendly Grocer proprietor Ray Walters said his business was about 40 per cent down.
“The only customers we’re getting now are a few travellers who have made it this far and want to know what roads are open to get through,” Mr Walters said.
“You have to realise the highway is closed for 50km to 60km around us.
“We’ve even lost customers from the other side of the explosion site because it’s easier for them to duck into Camperdown than drive around the back roads to get into Derrinallum.”
Mr Walters said the supermarket had just had its first delivery since the highway was closed.
“Some of our suppliers have simply said it’s too hard and time-consuming to go through the detours to get to us.
“It’s also hard to know what to order because we don’t know how long the highway is going to be closed.
“If it goes on much longer we’ll also have to reconsider giving hours to our casual staff – we’ve held on as long as we can, but you’ve got to have a cash flow to cover extra staff and, at the moment, we just haven’t got it.”