Dozens of Illawarra micro-business owners are in shock and out-of-pocket with the sudden closure of Chatterbox Kiama and Nowra, with plans to close its other locations in Thirroul and Miranda in June.
The owner of the artisan and gift outlets Natasha Cuevas said the business, had been struggling since Christmas due to a reduction in sub-leases by artisans combined with a dive in in-store trade.
Plans to sell the Kiama and Nowra stores to fill the financial hole fell through two weeks ago sparking the downward spiral of events, according to Ms Cuevas.
The whole climate has completely changed and a lot of families are struggling to buy groceries, they certainly aren't thinking about buying a new artwork for their wall.- Natasha Cuevas
"The whole climate has completely changed and a lot of families are struggling to buy groceries, they certainly aren't thinking about buying a new artwork for their wall or a new outfit because they're just having to make ends meet and keep up with ongoing price hikes," Ms Cuevas said.
"One of the things that was really damaging for us was the recent interest rate hike which was announced just before Mother's Day. Mother's Day is nearly like a second Christmas, but the sales just weren't there and the sales the following week were terrible. If the cash flow is not there, then you're constantly trying to chase the ball."
Currently there is a freeze on payments owed to the 70 micro-businesses who sub-lease a space in each of the five retail locations - which also include Thirroul, Miranda and Broadway. However all employees have apparently been paid up to date.
Broadway is the only location expected to remain open in a similar format, with Ms Cuevas currently in negotiations to sell that outlet.
Jewellery creator Belinda Margetts of Marbelle Design said on social media the news was sudden and came as a shock.
"There are many small businesses who rented space in the store in shock trying to navigate what this now means for them," she said.
All remaining stock will move to the Thirroul Plaza outlet for a final "closing down sale" to try and reduce the businesses' debt, while Ms Cuevas has vowed to pay all of her stall holders what is owed.
"I'm not supporting big clients ... I'm supporting families, I'm supporting mums and dads," Ms Cuevas said.
"I could just jump in the car and go to Brisbane ... but I'm not, I'm staying and I'm fulfilling my obligations and even if it takes me a couple of months to be able to fulfil those obligations, I'm determined to do so."
Meanwhile, the recent opening of the Rose Lane cafe in Wollongong Central shopping centre will go unaffected as the business was opened by Paul Rose in collaboration with Ms Cuevas and the Chatterbox Market.
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