Opinion by John Moyle
While the politicians in Macquarie Street fiddle with the Lockout Laws, Kings Cross is dying a death of a thousand cuts.
Since their introduction in 2014 under Liberal premier Barry O’Farrell, the draconian reaction to two deaths in Kings Cross by drunks from outside the area has seen the decimation of Australia’s most vibrant night time economy and the slow erosion of the area’s local culture.
The contagion is now spreading to local businesses as they suffer from the downturn of 20,000 weekend visitors pre-lockout, to what the City of Sydney estimate currently as 3-4,000 weekend visitors.
A recent joint-select committee on Sydney’s night-time economy has recommended that the state government take ‘proactive’ steps to reactivate Sydney’s nightlife, saying that it was losing $16 billion a year.
The review suggested that the lockouts be lifted in the CBD and Oxford Street but that Kings Cross has “not yet sufficiently changed” to warrant the lifting of the laws.
It is doubtful that the person who wrote those words has ever been to Kings Cross as the impacts are palpable. From Coles to the fountain along Darlinghurst Road, once described as the “Glittering Mile”, there are 10 empty shops.
Shamus Moore co-owns the Piccolo Bar, one of the last vestiges of the old Cross, opened in the fifties and, until recently, with a flourishing late night trade.
“I bought into the Piccolo because I firmly believe that the overall cultural institution that is Kings Cross was a melting pot for artists, musicians and Bohemians, wealthy and poor,” Moore said.
“The whole process of the lockouts was a wholesale suppression on bars and it affected small businesses because they were feeding off the vibrancy of the area.”
Moore said that since taking over in 2017 he has seen a decrease in the number of patrons from outside Kings Cross on the weekends. “What we are finding on a Saturday night, when we should be getting a mix of people, we are mainly getting locals.”
A walk down Macleay Street reveals that seven shops are empty.
Allan Heitner has owned SpitRoast on Macleay Street for seven years but is now thinking of leaving.
“I bought the business pre-lockout and it kicked off like a house on fire but after the lockouts it gradually got worse and worse and I’m down about 30 per cent,” Heitner said.
“I’m hanging on for dear life, and I have a lease that runs out in just over a year and I’ve been made a prisoner and there is nothing I can do about it.”
The section of Victoria Street that runs the length of Potts Point has six empty shops.
Hussan Maqableh used to operate Roslyn Street’s EzyMart with his brother, but now runs it by himself as there is not enough income for two.
“We bought the shop in 2007 and it was a very good business before the lockouts,” Hussan said.
“Before the lockouts we had so many visitors we used to work with three people at night, but since the lockouts we have gone from $15,000 a week to around $4,000 a week.”
Like Allan Heitner from SpitRoast, Hussan says that when the lease goes he goes.
Lucked out in Lockouts
Bayswater Road, once the home to many of the Cross’s biggest clubs, now has seven empty shops.
On the corner of Bayswater and Darlinghurst Roads the once thriving Chicken Spot is for sale.
From Coles to St Vincents Hospital along Darlinghurst Road there are six empty shops.
Carrington Brigham is the new chairman for the Potts Point Partnerships that represents around fifty local business and has overseen a change in policy of supporting the lockouts to requesting their removal.
“I take the point that government and City of Sydney are encouraging businesses to lead from the front during this transitional stage to a more experiential entertainment precinct,” Brigham said.
As Victoria Street extends from Coles to St Vincent’s Hospital, there are nine empty shops, bringing the total of empty shops in the area to 45.
“It is my fear that the patron reduction and people flow is spreading,” Doug Grand, Kings Cross Licensing Accord said.
Despite repeat requests from City Hub, the NSW Premier’s Department has not answered our queries on when or if the Lockout Laws will be debated.
“There are only two more listed sitting weeks for this year, so limited opportunities for the government to respond to the report (they officially have 6 months) or introduce legislation,” Alex Greenwich, independent MP for Sydney, said.
Mr Greenwich supports the removal of the lockouts for Kings Cross.
While many business owners in the area have been cowed into silence for the fear of upsetting Government the time has come for local businesses to be heard.