“We survived that as people still had to eat and they still needed a treat,” Ms Laski said. “This is not even comparable.”
Ms Laski said she had experienced a 90 per cent drop in trade at the iconic St Kilda cake store, which used to turn over around $1 million a year. She had cancelled all her casual staff’s shifts until further notice.
Robert Gordon Pottery has also experienced a “horrendous” drop off.
Owner Robert Gordon, 70, said the ceramics business he started in 1978 had survived interest rates soaring to 17 per cent and the global financial crisis but the coronavirus pandemic posed an unprecedented threat.
Pakenham-based Robert Gordon Pottery employed 40 staff and turned over more than $5 million last year but Mr Gordon said he was forced to shut the doors this week.
“We spent the last week tutoring our staff on how to access what is available for them and we are paying out two weeks’ salary,” he said. “The staff have been marvellous. It has been quite humbling talking to them. They are more likely to reassure me than I am reassuring them.”
Mr Gordon said he hoped the closure would only be for eight weeks.
“All through the history of any small business you have ups and downs. It is a rollercoaster ride. You will get kicks in the guts for all sorts of reasons,” he said. “It is eight weeks we have to get through but when we are through this and people think they can go out and about they will be spending again.”
In the meantime, even these seasoned business owners have struggled to come to terms with the scale of the blow dealt by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I look every day up at the sky and think ‘Is this really happening?’,” Ms Laski said.
Susan Avery believed flowers were recession-proof, but in more than three decades of running her florist business, she’s never seen conditions like this.
“We’re all feeling anxious. Everyone I know is anxious. It’s normal,” the owner of Sydney business Susan Avery Flowers said.
Ms Avery used to live in her flower shop, which she started in the 1980s, and says the past month of coronavirus-induced economic slowdown has made her reflect on the earliest days of starting her company.
“It’s like going back to 1982 when we started working from home,” she said.
Having seen economic challenges such as the 1991 recession and the global financial crisis, Ms Avery knows tough decisions have to be made in a downturn, but saw this slowdown as unique in the way it had shut down corporate bookings, weddings and those involved in sourcing stock.
“We don’t feel safe going to the flower markets any more. It’s sad for the growers as well,” she said.
“It’s hard to imagine today, but there will be an end to the situation. It’s just hard to know when it will be.”
Cara is the small business editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne
Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.