JOBKEEPER ending will barely cause a blip on Bendigo stores' financial radar after a strong recovery around Christmas, owners say.
Introduced to help businesses hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis, the JobKeeper payment subsidising a portion of staff's wages ended on Sunday.
But most retailers said they had not been eligible for the payment since January, because their sales recovered strongly after the lockdown ended.
Bendigo shop owner Matisse Barri said JobKeeper was crucial to keeping her three stores afloat during 2020, but they no longer needed it.
Ms Barri owns clothing stores Gathered, Meadow and Juno, which were able to access JobKeeper for staff. The businesses stopped accessing the payments at the start of 2020.
Ms Barri said JobKeeper meant she could keep paying staff while the stores were shut during lockdown, but their overheads remained.
But Ms Barri said trade had returned to normal by December.
"It essentially meant that our staff were able to keep their jobs and keep their money and the business was able to survive," she said.
"It was great that we had it when times were tough, but when it finished, we were able to afford wages again, the street was buzzing again."
Business owner Fiona Rooke told the same story. Her clothing store Robe was able to access JobKeeper for two of its employees.
By the end of 2020 the business was ineligible to continue on JobKeeper, because sales had returned to near normal.
Ms Rooke believed the upswing in sales was partly because Victorians had wanted to travel, but were limited to their own state, and party because of the emphasis in Bendigo on shopping local.
Despite this boom, Ms Rooke said JobKeeper was probably the only thing that got the business through the pandemic. Now she believes the store is in an even better position than it was going into 2020.
"As soon as everything opened up again, people were so excited and there was such a sense of celebration," Ms Rooke said.
"There's been a heightened sense of community and supporting our community."
Business chamber Be.Bendigo chief executive Dennis Bice said no one really knew how many retail businesses would be affected by the end of JobKeeper, as there was no data breakdown of industries.
"Everyone's guessing a little bit at the moment," he said.
Mr Bice said hospitality, tourism, retail and accommodation were the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis, but it was hard to say which were still relying on it most.
He said some industries were doing well, but it was hard to know which businesses would struggle as the payment ended.
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