GARDEN ROUTE BUSINESS NEWS - As one of Knysna's top leisure destinations, the Waterfront has been hit hard by the Covid-19-related drop in international tourism and the subsequent government lockdown.
Centre manager Sheldon Meese says supporting local has never been more important.
"Most of our tenants and their employees are Knysna residents and we urge the public to support them. Among the shops open at the moment are Health Bells, Out of the Blue, Sublime, Famous Brands, Providence and True Blue. The following sections of 34South are open: bakery, fish, groceries, frozen food and sushi. They also offer a delivery service which will include items from a specially prepared menu. Other tenants including restaurants have assured us that they will open as soon as they are allowed to."
Meese says as a leisure destination the shops rely to a great extent on tourists for their daily business. "Bearing this in mind we dramatically reduced rentals by 80% in April, even before the lockdown period was announced. The reduced rental of 20% serves as a contribution towards the centre's operational costs, including rates and utilities.
"The Waterfront hardly has any essential-sector shops and most will only be able to open once Level 2 and 1 are introduced. The 80% reduction in rental will stay in place until they can reopen. We will reassess turnovers after a specified trading period and may introduce a turnover rental, rather than a fixed amount, to work with them to counteract the Covid-19 impact."
The South African Property Owners' Association suggested a tenant assistance relief package with some rental relief in April and May, but that rates and utility costs must be paid in full.
"Due to the lockdown period we've missed out on the Easter holidays, usually a very busy period in Knysna. On top of that events like the Knysna Speed, Pink Loerie and Knysna Oyster festivals were cancelled this year. These factors will have an effect on turnovers before the traditionally quiet winter period, which influenced our decision to reduce rentals to a flat 20%, all-inclusive rate."
Meese believes it is essential to find a mutually beneficial solution - not only for shops to remain open, but also to enable owners to pay their employees until tourism picks up again. "Some of our tenants could not see a way forward, and for those that opted to close their businesses permanently, we have waived existing lease agreements and penalties." He says it is disheartening to experience a tenant vacating a shop or restaurant they may have built up over 10 to 20 years, which once again reiterates the catastrophic effect that the Covid-19 virus is having on people and the economy.
Meese reassures tenants: "We understand that tourism will take time to recover. This is why we are working on reducing the centre's operational costs without impacting on standards in terms of cleaning, security, etc. This will enable us to accommodate our tenants going forward by keeping rentals achievable until turnovers have recovered to pre-Covid-19 levels. The Waterfront is a microcosm of the Knysna tourism industry and we will do our utmost to preserve it and to help the tenants to survive and hopefully prosper in future. For the sake of Knysna, we hope other landlords follow suit."
'We bring you the latest Garden Route news'