LIST: Southwest businesses that opened or grew during COVID
COVID-19 has rocked the Australian economy since it made its way to our shores in March 2020.
And while many businesses and organisations have struggled, some brave business owners in southwest Queensland have decided to open shop or expand:
Betta Home Living
Third generation Chinchilla business owners Frances and Gerald Purves snapped up the opportunity to buy the Roma Betta Home Living store in August 2019.
They were keen on renovating the store and expanding the showroom, but the COVID pandemic came to Australian shores about the same time they began the construction in March 2020.
But luckily enough, Mrs Purves found it to be the perfect time to do this large scale renovation and it certainly paid off.
Now, the store has a similar layout and stock range as the furniture stores in Brisbane and Toowoomba.
"It was a bit crazy... but the customers were pretty understanding," Mrs Purves said about the renovation.
The ceiling was completely replaced and the offices in the back were removed to make way for an expanded showroom.
And they've managed to keep up the support of southwest Queensland shoppers during the pandemic, and Mrs Purves believes it's quite a bit of good luck on their part.
"No one was able to travel so everyone was locked into their own towns and that, and were happy to support the local businesses," she said.
"We like being here it's a lovely town, we've settled in really well."
The southwest town of Morven suffered through the misery of not having a pub for four and a half years after the Morven Hotel Motel burnt down in 2016.
Without a meeting place, eight families banded together to establish Sadleirs Waterhole in front of the Warrego Highway, and it has since become the town's prime meeting spot ever since opening on Father's Day, September 6, 2020.
Co-owner Leanne McInnerney said they have been really well supported by locals and travellers for the past five and a half months of being in business.
"The first three months were really full-on," Mrs McInnerney said.
But COVID hasn't thrown them too many challenges, with the biggest hurdles being the decisions that needed to be made for the operation of the pub.
"We were a little bit worried about the COVID thing but it didn't affect us because people were still travelling."
The next stage of the pub will be adding accommodation on the land, which will be built by the same builder - Chinchilla's Chris Hart.
Mrs McInnerney says business owners just have to be brave and give it a go to get things up and running in remote communities.
Kirby Johnstone opened up her new beauty salon at the same time that COVID hit, and was forced to shut her doors soon after opening them.
She used this time to build her network around town and search for potential clients from across southwest Queensland, so she could have a leg up when her business reopened on August 29, 2020.
Plush Diamond offers services that would otherwise only be found in Brisbane, such as cosmetic tattooing, microblading, and skin tightening.
And Ms Johnstone has travelled around to places like Cunnamulla and Emerald to provide services to clients who now drive down to Roma to visit her.
"I have clients all the way up from Blackall, driving all the way up to see me," she said.
She also offers services outside of the 9-5 hours, for clients who work.
Ms Johnstone struggled with income when the salon was closed, but had plenty of people coming back in when restrictions were lifted to keep their looks up to date.
"Also a challenge with everyone ringing up saying, 'can we get out lashes done anyway', and I had to say 'no'. That was the hard thing," she said.
Ms Johnstone also works two part-time jobs, runs a farm, and is a mother.
She hopes to employ new staff in the future.
Gym junkies faced a major blow to their workouts and routines during 2020 due to prolonged restrictions on fitness centres, but this major southwest gym took the opportunity to open in a bigger and better location.
But with the new Hawthorne St building ready in July and the restrictions easing in June, Snap Fitness Roma had to face the decision of when they should open.
Manager Giri Kumar said the gym reopened in June while the old building was still in use so members could keep up with their workouts.
"When we heard from the Premier that we could open the gyms again, we opened it up, we didn't want to wait," Mr Kumar said.
"Ten weeks of lockdown has already been a really long time for a lot of members and I understand because I train as well and I can feel from their perspective."
It's not just bodybuilders who were missing out with the lockdowns, but also people with medical and mental conditions, people wanting to slim down for a special event, and people who want to let go of some extra energy after work.
Being an experienced trainer himself, Mr Kumar shares his passion with owner Justin Garvie, so their collaboration was helpful in helping cater to the needs of gym members.
Come July, the brand new building was ready for use with fresh equipment, a dedicated functional area, and a slightly bigger floorplan.
Beck's Chopping Board
Roma locals and visitors alike are always up for a treat when they peep into this little restaurant inside of the Big Rig centre.
Beck Swan has had the dream to start her own cafe for many years, but finally took the leap after her mother passed in 2019.
Late that year, Beck's Chopping Board started serving food and coffee to visitors to the Big Rig.
"I love people and I like to be a people pleaser and people person," she said was one of the big reasons for starting up a cafe.
But little did anyone know the COVID-19 pandemic would hit Australian shores in March 2020.
Despite the challenge, Ms Swan and her team spent six months preparing a new store at the Moorelands Bush Nursery, which opened in late August 2020.
They've even launched their own mobile app for people to advertise specials and help people get takeaway during the pandemic.
Roma shoppers were keen to continue supporting their local market during the pandemic with toilet paper, sugar, bread, milk, flour, and especially hand sanitiser were in high demand.
In fact, IGA needed to look for three new staff members due to a boom in sales.
"We've been lucky that our customers have been really patient and understanding when we have run out of items," store manager Seamus Byrne told the Western Star in 2020.
The pandemic didn't stop them from expanding their business with their bold ambition to create a full-sized supermarket now in fruition.
Cornett's CEO Graham Booysen believes it will be an alternative to Woolworths when it is completed next month in March.
"I think it would be a concern to only have the one supermarket open in Roma as a lot of customers support our local store and particularly as we open on Sundays and Woolworths doesn't," Mr Booysen said in regards to the six-week closure while the store is transferred.
The new store is expected to support between 50 and 60 jobs.
Roma Pet World
The go-to place for animal owners across the Maranoa has expanded their store and supplies during the pandemic and now has more product to offer.
Owner Cyril Peet said the store was able to hang in there despite the COVID pandemic and even saw some busy periods.
"We did all right with COVID," Mr Peet said.
He said it was 'busy as' from March to June last year, just when the virus first broke out in Australia.
But as business has dropped back to normal, Mr Peet expanded his range of fishtanks and underwater pet supplies.
A new compartment out the back hosts the new fishtank gallery he set up in early 2021.
The Pet Shop has also undergone painting works and solar upgrades.
Michelle Ebsworth turned her hobby into a successful business last year just as COVID restrictions started to die down, and her customer base now reaches across the entire country.
The Charleville woman started Faraway Tree as a 'lifestyle investment' where she could do the things she loves while earning a living.
She makes handmade clothes and sells them alongside books and other vintage items.
There is also a newly renovated activity space out the back.
"Very, very excited that I opened in September because the last three months of last year were fantastic," Mrs Ebsworth said.
There were tourists galore during the end of 2020 and many were keen to shop at Faraway Tree.
The shop also hosted Santa photos, with proceedings going to a local school.
Mrs Ebsworth said sales have dropped a bit this year due to the harsh southwest heat, but she's looking forward to another big tourism season.
"With handmade clothing it's been a lot more beneficial for me because people were staying at home a lot more and wanted to stop spending money on Chinese-made, cheap things," she said.
"They wanted to start buying decent quality items where they knew where they were made.
"That, with a handmade business, really helped me."
Her online business has also been successful with many people keen to buy her products during the lockdown.
She says her secret to success is to not overcapitalise at the beginning and to live within your means.
"For me, it's something I've took a risk in and I think it's going to pay off."
Roma's very on mini Kmart store opened its doors to the public in February 2021 after Target decided to wrap up its operations in many Australian towns.
Parent company Wesfarmers announced the change in May 2020 and announced up to 92 Target stores could be converted into Kmart or K Hub, including Roma.
Store manager Tim Watson said having a K Hub is extremely exciting for Roma and brings confidence to the community that new stores like this and IGA are opening.
"The transition went really smoothly, so we were very fortunate," Mr Watson said.
"My first thought when I heard about the K Hub was that it would be really exciting for the town.
"I was speaking to Tyson (mayor Tyson Golder) and how it is showing a lot of confidence in the community that there's a new K hub and IGA opening, so there's a real buzz around in town."
Tuqeri Davis began fixing phones in Hervey Bay in 2016 but continued his business when he moved to Roma in 2019.
He was operating out of his home until opening his new shopfront for Prime Repairs on October 19, 2020.
And it was a bumpy start because he was only getting about two customers a week, but his business started to pick up over the new year.
"Being located in such a small court is a bit hard for people to find," he said.
But Mr Davis was able to jump the hurdle by distributing his business cards around town, maintaining a strong social media presence, and having a well-designed store.
"My plan was to push advertising - get it as modern and as eye-catching as possible," he said.
He believes the best way to start an electronic repair shop is to start small and not to push every phone case or new item available, only the most popular ones.
"Start small, don't go and spend a crazy amount of money because you'll gain all your profits back, easily"
Mr Davis is looking into doing computer repairs in the future as his business grows.
Nomad Caravan & Auto Electrical
Kenrick Bowen got the tools of his trade from his work with PTW Auto Electrical in Roma and is a caravan repairer by trade.
But it was hard for him to find the time to fix up caravans in his old job, so now the 31-year-old's started a dedicated business for repairs and auto electrical.
He's taken over the site of the old Autospa business after they closed in late-2020, and since Mr Bowen has a good relationship with the owner of the building, he was happy to have him in.
"Roma seemed like it had plenty of vans and especially winter time, everyone comes up this way to go up north, go chase the warmth," he said.
"And no one could help them really. People were always pulling into PTW and they're wanting things done. We were just too busy with other stuff.
"So I figured, I might as well start an electrical business/caravan repairs to try and hit that market and it's worked really well."
Mr Bowen said he had not been heavily affected by COVID and he's been able to keep up steady business with caravan repairs, but he always has autoelectrical services to fall back on if needed.
He said his secret to success is to put the hours in, and you get out of the business what you put in.
"Everyone in town has been very supportive," he said.
"I haven't heard a bad word about it. My old boss, he was happy for me to do it."
He hopes to build up a full showroom and get his partner on board in the future.
Kings Motor Inn
Kylie Taylor packed up her life in Brisbane to move back to Roma to revive an old motel with her best friend from Mitchell Rhiannon Lawson.
And it was a bold move for the young business owners because they struggled immensely with finding a lender during COVID, as banks weren't willing to take a risk with the hospitality business.
"It's exciting, and obviously I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think it was a good opportunity," Miss Taylor said.
"The fact that we've taken over a business that is not operational makes it that bit more difficult because there's not already processes and procedures and there's not just trained staff and trained managers we could do a handover with."
It's been very hard work for the pair since taking over the King's Motor Inn in early February 2021, with heaps of administration and maintenance tasks needing to be done.
But they've been given the freedom to make many decisions such as what computer software to use and restaurant menu items, but it is difficult without a hospitality background.
Not to mention the motel has been broken into three times since the new owners took over, with walls and the pools damaged, setting them back at least $11,500 for structural damage and $2000 for cleaning costs.
However, with all the tireless work and struggle with loans and breakins, there has been a silver lining with COVID.
"We saw the flip side of this, we saw the opportunity that right now, because of this... no one's going overseas now because they can't, a lot of people have no desire to go down to New South Wales or Victoria," Miss Taylor said.
"A lot of people are choosing to travel within Queensland and go and do all the rural and outback stuff."
"There's still so much to offer," Mrs Lawson said.
With Queensland travellers keen to go out west to places like Longreach and Winton, they'll often pass through Roma where they'll be able to stay at the new hotel.
They don't want the motel to be the fanciest place on the block, rather somewhere that feels homely.
Mrs Lawson believes it's important to keep up the fun in work.
"If you don't try and make fun of some stuff then you'll struggle," she said.
"The best thing about being in together is that you can bounce off each other."