Tourists urged back or town could go bust

Dixie Schafrin usually does 60 per cent of her annual trade in the two weeks after Christmas.

Tourists stream through her Saltwater Dream surf and clothing shop at Batemans Bay.

"They come down, they buy thongs, rashies, hats, they're here for the holidays and they forget all that," Ms Schafrin told AAP.

"On a hot day, they come and get the suntan lotions. On a cold day, they come in to shop generally or get a wetsuit.

"That's what gets us through the rest of the year."

But the bushfire crisis on the NSW south coast has driven her business to the brink.

Fires have forced the closure of the main highway into town since the start of December.

Then on New Year's Eve, a catastrophic firestorm tore through the coast.

Ms Schafrin lost her house in the blaze and sheltered 40 evacuees in her shop.

She only reopened two days ago, after smoke damage kept the shop shut.

But there are still staff and bills to pay as well as stock that hasn't moved.

Ms Schafrin has been forced to dump clothes and refinance her loans while cleaning up after the fires.

"It can't get much worse at the moment."

Six Batemans Bay shops have already gone bust and more are expected to fold.

"It's just killed us - I just don't know that the town is going to bounce back at all," Ms Schafrin said.

Tourists are returning now the roads have reopened but nowhere near as many as normal.

Over at The Boathouse, there is usually a line out the door by mid-morning and at least 80 people booked in for a cruise.

But customers have only just started trickling back into the fish and chip shop and its ferry hasn't been out for six weeks.

The family-run business has lost $400,000 in revenue since the start of summer and is still sucking wind.

Mountains of stock has been given away and supplies gather dust upstairs.

Its suppliers are also feeling the pinch.

Tracy Innes would usually order 60 boxes of chips a day and up to 50 cartons of drinks every week.

"It's not just the coal face people that are really hurting, it's also the back-end suppliers," she told AAP.

"The fruit man, 15 boxes of lemons a week. He'll have them in a coolroom somewhere, probably. He would've ordered them in knowing we'd want them."

Some shop owners want the government to help cover staff wages they can't afford.

Others are simply desperate for tourists to know the south coast is open for business.

The Easter holidays could determine whether businesses sink or stay afloat.

Ms Innes fears an economic disaster could hit in another six months if more shops are forced to close.

"The financial crisis that's going to flow from it - if we don't act now it's going to just kill the town," she said.


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