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Australia Queenscliff shop owners relish retirement after decades stirring the pot

02:31  30 september  2020
02:31  30 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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This page is everything going on in Queenscliff , Point Lonsdale, supporting locals and shopping for food and supplies that you need care and caregiving exercise and outdoor recreation work and education – if you can’t do it from home visiting friends and family – if you really need to.

For Owners . The Queenscliff suburb record was reset at million late last year when a house a few doors along the clifftop sold to company Formica, which is a subsidiary of the retirement and nursing home giant Aveo of which the non-executive chairman is Malaysian billionaire Seng Huang Lee.

a man holding a glass of beer on a table: Russell and Maggie Spokes are looking forward to retirement after decades running their store. (ABC News: Nicole Mills) © Provided by ABC News Russell and Maggie Spokes are looking forward to retirement after decades running their store. (ABC News: Nicole Mills)

If you ask Russell Spokes what the best marketing campaign for his shop was, he will tell you it was not a print advertisement or a viral post on social media.

It was the aroma that wafted from the kitchen, drifting out over the neighbouring streets in Queenscliff.

Mr Spokes and his wife, Maggie, have been stirring the pot, quite literally, for close to three decades at Maggie's Kitchen — their jams and preserves shop on Victoria's Bellarine Peninsula.

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At a time when Victorian businesses have struggled during the pandemic, the couple are glad to be closing down on their own terms and entering a well-earned retirement.

In fact, business has been booming in recent months.

As the couple clear out the contents of their store, their industrial kitchen has continued to fire on all cylinders to keep up with last-minute orders from customers from around the country.

Many are desperate for the final batches of their best-selling item — a tomato relish.

"I just can't make enough of it. People are buying them by the dozen," Mr Spokes said.

"I've always been particular with tomatoes — getting good tomatoes and being fussy about it."

Cashflow crucial as costs rise and revenues tumble

Many other Victorian businesses, particularly small operators, will not be able to go out on such a high note because of the pandemic.

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Tim Piper, the Victorian head of the Australian Industry Group, described the past six months as the "toughest ever business conditions".

Mr Piper believes the cumulative effect of revenue drops, continued overheads and reduced JobKeeper rates will likely spell the end of many small businesses in Victoria despite government assistance packages.

"Cashflow is going to be king for them," he said.

"Victoria is now probably a full 12 months behind the situation other states have got."

In July, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said the state was expected to record a $7.5 billion operating deficit in 2019–20, with unemployment rates tipped to reach 11 per cent in the September quarter.

Ray Sharawara, an executive board member on the Australian Hotel Association, predicted up to a quarter of the state's pubs would go broke by the end of the year if they did not receive further rental support.

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In Melbourne, the lease of the 152-year-old Hawthorn Hotel was handed back to the landlords earlier this month.

Other country watering holes have also shut recently.

"A lot of little country pubs, they don't know what to do," Mr Sharawara told the ABC earlier this month.

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While Melbourne venues will be able to open their doors if the city progresses to the next step of its re-opening, Mr Sharawara is not optimistic they will be able to offer the bustling atmosphere that once drew patrons in large numbers.

"People love to get together, they love to be in crowds … it's all about being together," he said.

"That social fabric will be destroyed because you can't mix with who you meet."

Rich flavours turned around couple's fortunes

Back at Maggie's Kitchen, while reflecting on his business's 27-year history, Mr Spokes says he never imagined being able to stay open for so long.

Their first business venture, a fruit shop, ended in failure when they were outmuscled by a large franchise that opened nearby.

But they tried their luck again, sensing an opportunity due to the popularity of Mrs Spokes's homemade preserves at local markets.

They opened a shop in Queenscliff, and then upgraded to even bigger premises nearby.

"It put us back on our feet, because we were at rock bottom," Mr Spokes said.

Mr Spokes said he and his staff filled about 20,000 jars of preserves and jams every year.

Plans to finally close the store were in place months before the pandemic hit, and when the doors finally shut on Sunday Mr Spokes joked that he and his wife would celebrate by sleeping in for the next month.

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