Mecca Cafe owner and chef Todd McLean (right) gets a little help over the holiday season from his brother Matt, 14.
Mecca Cafe owner and chef Todd McLean (right) gets a little help over the holiday season from his brother Matt, 14. Jacklyn Wagner

Shops shut over Fruits Festival

LISMORE is missing out on tens of thousands of ‘pink’ dollars because so many restaurants and retailers close down during the peak Boxing Day to New Year season.

First-timers at the Tropical Fruits Festival, between December 29 and January 2 were surprised to find so many venues closed, especially the food outlets, according to chairman Shane Duniam.

Tropical Fruits attracted more than 2500 people to the town, and the festival regulars ‘just love Lismore’, Mr Duniam said, ‘bad roads and all’.

However, many first-time visitors were frustrated that they were unable to eat well in the evenings, and ended up travelling to Bangalow and Byron Bay to dine.

Those shops, cafes and restaurants that did stay open reported doing a roaring trade, and some are considering opening for longer periods or at night next year.

But Simone Dixon, co-owner of the Ellendale House B&B, which was filled with festival goers, said she had found it ‘very embarrassing’ when she rang around restaurants trying to book a table for her guests only to find so many of them closed

“Guests were asking me, ‘where can we eat?’ but it was difficult to find anywhere open. Some were eating fast food or at the pub, but no one wants to eat at the same place every night.”

Some had been forced to buy food at a supermarket and consume it in the car park, she said.

“Lismore has some fabulous restaurants, and it’s such a shame that these out-of-towners couldn’t sample some of what we have to offer,” Ms Dixon said.

As it was, some guests had said they would think about not staying in Lismore next time.

“This is such a wonderful opportunity for Lismore to stage an event that’s on a par with some of the biggest festivals around the country. But we are in danger of losing people who visit from the cities,” Ms Dixon said.

Some businesses closed in the interests of ‘work-life’balance.

Jon Paterson, of the New Camera House, said that in an owner-operated business like his, sometimes he had to ‘put the heart before the dollar’.

“And we are mindful of staff. They’ve put in a big effort over the year and deserve to have a bit of R&R.”

Restaurants that employ students can have trouble getting staff for the period, or are reluctant to take the gamble of paying penalty rates only to find they operated at a loss.

But those that stayed open reported boom trading.

Tuesday, December 29, had been ‘excellent’ and New Year’s Eve ‘fabulous’ for Paupiettes, said co-owner David Forster. The restaurant closes from mid to late January, he said, because the Christmas season was so consistently good, helped in part by the Tropical Fruits influx.

And it was a full house at Cafe Giardino. Co-owner Rosita Gacioppa said they didnot ever take holidays at thistime of year because of thedemand.

And while Mecca Cafe closed on the public holidays this year owner Todd McLean said it had been ‘flat out’ on all the other days, mainly serving hungry festival goers.

He would have liked to open on New Year’s Day but none of his staff wanted to work.

“I should have made them,” he joked.

He has opened in the evenings in the past and said the demand meant he was quite likely to do so again next year.

Brenton Shalders, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said it would make more of a ‘combined effort’ in the future, and facilitate better communication between festival organisers and local businesses.

“It is obviously disappointing for visitors to see the town closed,” he said.

Mr Duniam said the festival had a five-year DA, so it was ‘absolutely going to be happening for the foreseeable future’, so those businesses which wanted to take advantage should get on board.

A statement from Lismore Council said the council promoted the festival to local businesses and tourism operators through its bimonthly Tourism Newsletter.

“While council cannot offer a comment about the lack of restaurants open over the past weekend, Mark Batten, council’s newly appointed business facilitator, is keen to meet the business community and organisers to discuss providing a higher level of service for visitors to Lismore for 2010 New Year celebrations,” the statement said.

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