'Hard pill to swallow'
Stawell Elite Contender gym owner Damien Smith is at a loss - financially, mentally and emotionally.
2020 promised such potential to the young gym owner, putting his life savings and investing in three gyms across the Wimmera.
Then Nhill - two employees already on the books, ready to start.
The third location couldn't be further from his mind. Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic and the outbreak in Victoria, Mr Smith is doing all he can to stay afloat.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a roadmap out of current restrictions.
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Business owners held so much hope and anticipation for the announcement, only to find their worlds crashing down once again.
Mr Smith said the roadmap shows he will not able to open his business before November 23 - and that date wasn't in concrete.
"I'm frustrated and at a loss of what to do next," he said.
"I'm trying to make sense of why these decisions are made about the industry.
"I've done some research. Gyms have been closed in Melbourne since March so no data to back up any decisions can come from Victoria.
"In New South Wales, up until mid-June, there were no community transmission cases.
"Comments I've heard which have come from the government in regards to catching COVID-19 within the gyms aren't backed with evidence."
Mr Smith said despite some relief for business owners out there, it still wasn't enough for start-up businesses.
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"I've applied for a few grants but it is such a small amount," he said.
"The value I can receive if successful is about three weeks turnover for us - being closed for about seven months with the same amount of expenses.
"We've still got rent, we've still go monthly bills coming in. They don't stop and although they can be deferred, eventually I will have to pay them back.
"It's hard to believe we aren't an essential service compared to other businesses that can still operate and trade. By no means am I saying other businesses should close. I'm more saying if they can open safely, then so can we."
With a projected view of employing about eight people across the Wimmera, Mr Smith said the decision not to let businesses open hurts both the employer and employees.
"We had contracts and provisions in place to open three gyms across the Wimmera this year," he said.
"Obviously the one in Stawell is set up and was open for four to five weeks. The one in Nhill is set up and we're paying bills there but it still hasn't been open yet. In the pipeline at about this time, a third location was to be fitted out.
"We can't do that for quite some time now because we have no income. My business is behind 12 months financially.
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"To fit out a commercial gym or any business really is not a cheap or easy thing to do. There is a lot of money and work that's sitting there not getting used while owners are left to worry about how bills are going to get paid."
Mr Smith said the gym provided an outlet for people not only wanting to reach health and fitness goals but a social outlet as well.
"For a lot of people and a lot of our members, my clients and my mates it's their time of the day to escape from work or home and everything that's going on around them," he said.
"There is a massive concern about people not being able to access gyms for so long. For some people, it might have been their only social outing.
"Depending on fitness goals, gyms can be the only place for people to go to reach what they wanted to do.
"There is a really big concern within the industry that people have gone for so long without going to the gym they might not return and make it a priority."
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