In the two years he's owned The Illawarra hotel, Ryan Aitchison can hardly remember a time when the place could operate without some form of COVID restrictions.
Since taking over and renovating the Wollongong CBD pub in 2019, he's been through several bouts of social distancing rules limiting the number of patrons, and two lockdowns.
The staff are now preparing to re-open on October 11 after the double vaccination rate hits 70 per cent - and it couldn't come soon enough.
Mr Aitchison said this second lockdown had been worse than the first, which allowed the venue to focus on food rather than drinks and remind people the place was no longer a nightclub.
This time around, the lockdown took the wind out of their sails. He said they'd been planning "a huge end to the year" and now had to rebuild the momentum.
When the doors re-open, that one person per 4sqm rule will see it hard to make ends meet - especially with federal Job Saver funding cutting out at the end of the month and a NSW government stopgap finishing up on November 30.
"We can kind of tread water [when we were closed] because of the government support," Mr Aitchison said.
"We're more worried about opening when all of our costs come back, which is a lot. When we re-open our trade is only going to be around 25 per cent. Once that [government support] stops and we need to open our doors and pay our staff and creditors and whatnot - that's the part we're not looking forward to, to be honest."
To help both the Illawarra and other CBD businesses, Mr Aitchison has been working with Wollongong City Council to allow some al fresco dining on the footpath outside the hotel.
"We want try and utilise outside space because it's going to be many, many months before the internals of those restaurants and pubs and venues are going to be able to be properly utilised," he said.
On the upside, bookings are flowing in - Mr Aitchison said the phone was running hot as soon as the government announced the re-opening dates.
"We're pretty much booked up now for the first few weeks and it's looking like Christmas is going to be chockers as well," he said.
"We're really thankful for the support that we've got and it feels good that when we do open we're going to be able to hit the ground running."
He said he didn't expect to have any problems enforcing the 4sqm rule because people were now quite familiar with it. Nor was he concerned about having to ask patrons for proof of vaccination before allowing them to enter.
"I'm confused about a lot of businesses who complain about that, pubs especially, he said.
"This is a daily operation - we check that people have checked in, we check they're of age, we check that they're not drunk. It's just second nature to also check their vaccinations status, so we're not worried at all.
"Refusing people for a specific reason isn't a new thing but a lot of people are acting like it is. It's been happening since the beginning of time when it comes to pubs."
It's not something that concerns Five Barrel Brewing's owner Phil O'Shea either.
"It's on us to create a safe environment for everybody and your customers aren't going to want to go out to a venue that doesn't follows the health directives," he said. "It's just really that simple."
Anyway, after a few months solely brewing for bottles and cans, he's more focused on ensuring they have enough beer in kegs to supply all those bars and restaurants that are about to open.
"Coming into lockdown we lost nearly 50 per cent of our normal wholesale revenue, losing restaurants and bars," he said.
"It's been a massive couple of weeks to really refine the schedule to allow for an increase in inventory of kegs so when we get back open there's going to be a ton of fresh beer out there for everyone.
"It'll be really exciting to get the sense of normality back and the buzz in the brewery that comes along with full production. Basically everyone's really keen and eager to get out there, get busy and get back to normal."
This week staff at the family-run Napoli Pizza in Burelli Street were outside spraypainting chairs - one of the finishing touches on the refurbishment of the restaurant that took place during lockdown.
Co-owner Lisa Santomaggio said business had dropped more than 50 per cent during the lockdown, though the pizza restaurant still had support from their regulars.
"it's been very hard - we've got a lot of customers who just like the dining experience," Ms Santomaggio said. They like to eat their pizza off a plate, not out of a cardboard box.
"Our customers have supported us and they'll come here to get their takeaway, because we've been open for takeaway deliveries. That's what kept us open, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to survive this lockdown."
She said she wasn't looking forward to having to check vaccination status, adding they may have to employ a staff member to stand at the door and vet people.
"I think that's going to be very, very hard - you know some people are going to be a bit funny to ask them," she said.
"Having to tell people 'no, you can't come in' when you've got customers who have been coming here for 30 years. That's not going to be a fun conversation to have."
Cinemas will also be able to open come October 11, though Gala Cinemas manager Ian Hyslop said they will likely wait until the Thursday - the usual day that movie schedules change.
Mr Hyslop said he didn't yet know which films would be screening, though many had seen their release dates delayed due to COVID.
During the lockdown he had been coming in to carry out maintenance and ensure the projectors and other equipment were working.
"If it's not run on a regular basis the batteries can be depleted and the whole thing breaks up," he said.
"Then you have to send for parts overseas to get replaced and they can be about $5,000.
"I know a lot of chain [cinemas], when they go to reopen with the equipment some of them have got big problems because it hasn't been turned on since closure 15 weeks ago."