Restaurant faces closure as Queen St upgrade work drags on at Richmond
Poppy Thai restaurant owner Pobsak Srithong fears his Richmond business is going under.
He estimates sales are down by about 50 per cent in his Queen St restaurant, which sits in the midst of a Tasman District Council-funded upgrade of the main street that is weeks behind schedule.
As at July 25, Srithong and his wife, Angie, were more than $9600 in arrears, mainly for rent. By the end of September, that total could climb by another $6200 unless their fortunes change.
Srithong said the couple, who have owned the restaurant for three years, did not know if their business was going to survive.
"It's really hard," he said. "We have no customers now, you know. It's difficult for people to come."
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He took over the restaurant from his mother, who had owned it for 10 years.
Srithong said he'd asked for help from TDC and his landlord.
The landlord was helping by not charging interest.
"I understand ... the landlord has to pay the bank," Srithong said. "Tasman [District Council] not help with anything. I have been to talk to them to say: 'Look, I'm not busy, what should I do?'
"Landlord say: 'You should ask TDC to help.' When you talk to TDC, they say: 'Talk to your landlord'."
Srithong said he had also asked for a loan from his bank but was turned down.
"The bank said no because my income is not enough. What can I do? We rent [our] house. People look after the kids; we pay a lot of things."
Srithong said he never imagined the work on the Queen St upgrade outside his business would last so long.
Poppy Thai is in stage two of the planned six-stage $11 million Queen St upgrade project. Work on stage two, between Noel Leeming and Cambridge St, was originally due to be carried out between mid-April and mid-July. It is still under way.
Stage one, from Gladstone Rd to Noel Leeming, is due to open on Saturday but was originally earmarked for completion in mid-May.
"We thought: 'OK ... because it's wintertime and they take only 12 to 14 weeks, it should be all right," Srithong said of the planned stage two works.
However, his business had been affected since late February when a section of Queen St in front of his restaurant was dropped to one lane and later closed completely.
"Everyone's [customers] got a car, you know," Srithong said. "If they are coming to dine here and they see the road like this, who's going to come in; it's better to drive to Nelson to a Thai restaurant there, relax and not see this kind of thing."
Other customers who did come had been chased away by the work.
Srithong said six diners walked out a couple of weeks ago when a contractor cut concrete about 6.30pm – peak time for the restaurant.
Two customers were horrified when a pipe was cut and dirty water sprayed over the restaurant windows in front of them. The noisy work lasted about an hour.
Srithong said he wasn't advised of the work beforehand and when he asked about it the next day, he was told: "Tonight, we have to do it again, sorry."
Fellow Queen St businessman Garry Higgins, of Richmond Roast House & Cafe, said there was a lack of communication from TDC.
"They're not fronting up and being honest about what's going on," Higgins said. "It's the bullshit everyone's over."
The footpath to his business was closed about 6pm one evening – peak time for his store, he said.
Before the work began, Higgins said he was working on the premise he would suffer a 30 per cent drop in business during the work. He warned other proprietors to prepare for the same.
This week, Higgins said it was worse than he anticipated, with sales down about 55 per cent from February 7 to now, compared with the same time last year.
Like Srithong, some other business owners had indicated their sales were down about 50 per cent, Higgins said.
"We'll survive," he said, of Richmond Roast House & Cafe. "Somehow, we'll get around it. We've got too many good customers we can't let go."
Many business owners were frustrated and disappointed, and believed someone should be held accountable, Higgins said.
"It hasn't been done very well."
TDC did not provide answers to some direct questions including whether Srithong was warned about the concrete cutting, if TDC would consider paying compensation to affected business owners in light of how far over schedule the work has run, if there were plans to make up for any lost time, whether the upgrade was expected to run over its $11m budget and whether the finish-one-stage-at-a-time approach had been dropped.
However, community relations manager Chris Choat did provide a written statement that says the council and its contractors are "simply not in a position" to offer firm guarantees of timing due to the nature of the work.
"We accept, as we did two years ago, this is challenging," he says. "To that end, we have made available a number of options to support businesses through Richmond Unlimited and other avenues such as business mentoring services. To our knowledge, those businesses that have taken up those opportunities have to a degree lessened the impact of the work."
With much of the infrastructure underground, everyone is relying on 50-year-old records and "a number of informed assumptions" have to be made.
"For example, an existing concrete stormwater pipe was supposed to still be in good condition," Choat says. "When it was exposed, this was not the case requiring this considerable length of pipe ... to be replaced. This alone has created a number of delays."
When such job hurdles are discovered, the surrounding businesses are informed as the contractors work to find a solution that not only minimises the delay but also the impact on the affected businesses, he says.
"This has involved maintaining access to footpaths and other laneways during the day with essential work in the footpath area happening at night."
The outcome of the Queen St upgrade will result in a far more resilient and attractive town centre, Choat says.
Srithong worries he won't be there to see it.
He said he had until the end of September to pay his outstanding rent or his lease might not be renewed.
"I feel shame if I have to walk away from this shop," he said.