Popular burger joint forced to close
THE owner of a closed burger joint in Murwillumbah says high rent costs and a poor economic climate in the town is what led the store to shut-up shop.
Justina Curtis and Scott Armstrong moved from Melbourne to open the Murwillumbah Burger Bar in May 2018 but were forced to "draw the line" this week after not paying themselves for more than a year.
"Sadly it's not viable to keep going, every shopkeeper will tell you the rent is very high for a small country town and after not paying ourselves for more than a year we just have to draw the line and move on," Ms Curtis said.
The restaurant was part of the highly-regarded "Burger Collective" website, which links burger enthusiasts to the best eats in the country.
Ms Curtis said Murwillumbah had a real problem with employment opportunities, which was not being acknowledged by the Tweed Shire Council.
"All the young people have to go to the Gold Coast, there's nothing here, we would have about two people a week coming in asking for work, and we'd just have to say sorry," she said.
"Council has said Murwillumbah is on the cusp of greatness for business, but if you look around, all the shopkeepers, everyone is struggling here.
"It seems there is a real disconnect and acknowledging there is a problem is the first step in fixing it, here in Murwillumbah in the main street, the trees are dying, I went around counting the empty shop fronts recently and it's about a quarter empty.
"Even our suppliers have said they noticed it's bad in Murwillumbah."
Ms Curtis said she loved the area and wanted to stay, but would need to go where the work is.
Selling the business is another obstacle.
"We've had it on the market for a while, but in this economic climate and the high cost of rent, it's not looking good," she said.
On Facebook, there was a strong response to the closure of the business.
Prominent fish and chip shop The Inky Squid wrote it was a great reminder to "support and shop local".
"We truly can appreciate the difficulty lots of fellow local businesses face," they said.
"We heavily rely on our social media to help share our name, but word of mouth is still just as powerful as ever.
"It's a very sad day when you see a small family-run shop close."
Another person wrote: "I can't believe the amount of people who live here who don't know or support our local businesses - let's all make sure we see all the good businesses that are available and support them as much as we can."
Murwillumbah business owner and Tweed Shire Councillor Pryce Allsop admitted overheads were expensive for businesses in the town.
"The rents certainly could be more affordable, but in lieu with the rents being more affordable, power prices are a killer," he said.
"If you're a business and want to run an air conditioner and be appealing to the clientele, it costs a lot of money.
"Let's face it, internet, power prices, there's lots of hurdles for businesses and the burger bar was certainly challenged."
Cr Allsop said some businesses were even moving to food stalls at the new M-Arts Precinct to avoid high rent costs.
But he said a rumour that more than 25 per cent of shops in the town were empty was "not quite right".
"It might be 10 to 15 per cent which isn't good either, but we've got a world of potential coming our way, soon we'll have a tourist attraction in the rail trail and I think we'll find in the next 18 months there will be a large uptake in the town," he said.
"We're seeing a transition and long term I think we're still all optimistic."