Gloucester business Elk and Willow survives COVID-19 and is now thriving

Gloucester business owner, Melissa Leitch is proud to stock regionally produced merchandise. Photo Anne Keen
Gloucester business owner, Melissa Leitch is proud to stock regionally produced merchandise. Photo Anne Keen

Things were looking pretty grim for Gloucester business owner, Melissa Leitch as the country entered COVID-19 lockdown, but she's come out the other side on top of the world.

"It's phenomenal," Melissa said. "It's better than before. Better than last year."

Having only owned Elk and Willow for two years, Melissa is still working out the consumer trends of the Gloucester region and she has been hit pretty hard with almost everything. First there was the worst drought in living memory, then bushfires that caused people to avoid the area and just when it looked like things were going to improve, a global pandemic hit.

Being a retail store, Melissa was able to stay open, but she made the decision to close her doors on Friday, April 3. Having to balance the cost of keeping the business operating with little to no customers and having her young school aged children at home, it was best for her to close.

Thankfully, being an employer, she was able to qualify for the Jobkeeper payments, which enabled her to keep her staff and financially support herself.

During the time she was closed, she tried a few new things. She opened an online shop, offered private retail therapy by appointment only and made hampers for Easter and Mothers Day that she delivered. Of the three, the hampers were the most popular.

"It was very successful and something I'd definitely do again," she said.

When the schools reopened, so did Elk and Willow and as the travel restrictions started to loosen, Gloucester became a busy place.

It's phenomenal. It's better than before. Better than last year.

Melissa Leitch

"We were closed for five weeks. I thought it was going to be at least three months," Melissa admitted. "That didn't happen and I was bloody glad."

And now, the boutique clothing store is killing it as visitors continue to pour into town.

"We need it. It's a sense of relief," she said.

The boost in business is coming from an influx in tourism with 70 per cent of her sales coming from visitors, a trend that she believes is going to continue.

"People have been stuck in the city and since there's been an out, they've been coming here. I think it's a combination of supporting regional and escaping the city," she smiled.

Since reopening, Melissa has embraced the Buy from the Bush campaign and has started stocking regionally made products, like soap, candles and jewellery. All the products are easily identifiable with a chalkboard label telling customers that it was handmade in regional NSW and sourced through #buyfromthebush.

"We've had an excellent response," she said. The products are flying off the shelves and she's had to reorder a few times since reopening on Monday, May 11.

Melissa acknowledges the importance of the government assistance and even though getting to the point when the payments finally started to come through was challenging, it was vital to her survival and retaining her staff.