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What to do if your retail business has been impacted by bushfire

Hundreds of communities have been hit by bushfires over the past five months in what many experts are calling an unprecedented bushfire season in Australia.

In addition to the tragic loss of life, an estimated 1800 homes have been damaged or destroyed and countless businesses have been unable to trade as normal due to road closures disrupting deliveries, customers staying home, or buildings burning down.

While there has been an outpouring of support for individuals who have lost their homes and for first responders helping to battle the blazes, what about business owners who have lost their livelihoods?

Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, is urging any retail owner affected by the bushfires to contact the ARA for support, even if they are not members.

“We’re here to help,” he told Inside Retail.

Zimmerman said the industry association had already fielded calls from a few retailers asking for advice, which prompted the ARA to prepare a statement about the resources available to retailers impacted by the bushfires. The statement is expected to be released on Monday.

In the meantime, Zimmerman said retailers should contact their landlord for assistance with their lease if they are unable to trade due to their building being damaged or destroyed by the bushfires.

“Let’s assume your building is still standing, but you haven’t got customers coming in because tourists are not allowed in these fire-ravaged areas. I would say go and talk to your landlord,” Zimmerman said.

“You’d think most reasonable landlords would [negotiate] so you can pay partial rent for a while.”

Depending on the lease structure, he said, retailers may have no lease obligations if their building has burned down completely.

“We would be quite happy to put people onto our lease [experts] so they can find out what their obligations are,” Zimmerman said.

Another area where retailers may be able to get relief is around payroll. While businesses with full-time staff have certain legal responsibilities, Zimmerman said the association can provide advice on what to do if they have been affected by the bushfires.

“A lot of businesses do 60 per cent of their profit in the six to eight weeks in the lead-up to Christmas. [The bushfires] would be devastating to some of them,” he said.

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