Meet the businesses doing well in lockdown – a vet, a baker and a penny farthing maker

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Later this month, Paul Sadler expects to open his first shop, selling imported Italian coffee machines, in Beaumaris in Melbourne’s south-east. Until now, he has been making sales from the garage at his home.

He knows this is not the norm when COVID-19 restrictions are causing businesses closures. “I think I’ll be one of the only people actually opening a shop at this point in time,” he said.

“It’s bizarre”: Paul Sadler’s business selling coffee machines has taken off.Credit:Chris Hopkins

“It’s crazy. It’s bizarre, for sure.”

Mr Sadler’s company, K Bean Coffee Machines, is among the businesses and services going well during the pandemic and its repeated lockdowns. It’s not by design, but because they happen to suit customer needs.

Mr Sadler, who quit his job as a scientist a year ago, said before the pandemic K Bean Coffee Machines would sell, from his Beaumaris home, about four hand-built machines a week. He is now selling eight a week, retailing for an average of $3000 each.

Some customers say they are buying a machine instead of going on a European holiday. Others are looking for “a pick-me-up” and “something fun to play with” while spending time at home.

Greg Dee, who runs Elwood Sourdough with his performer wife Tracy Harvey, said their business benefited from being next to the popular Elwood Canal walking trail.

Greg Dee and Tracy Harvey with bakers Sophie Gibson and Thea Ebert at Elwood Sourdough.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Daily sales at their stall, set up with council permission outside their house a year ago, have jumped 25 per cent during the past few lockdowns. The couple are selling about 40 sourdough rye loaves a day, compared to 25 before lockdown.

Mr Dee says many customers working or supervising children at home value the chance to say hello to familiar faces. One customer visited twice in one day. “I think it was just to get out of the house.”

The busyness is bittersweet because they have friends in the arts who have suffered from work drying up. One of Elwood Sourdough’s bakers is a musician who is unable to perform at the moment.

Dan Bolwell, who hand-makes penny farthing bicycles under the brand Penny Farthing Dan, expects to make a record 60 bikes this year, having made 50 last year and 30 in 2019.

Doug Suter has ordered a new penny farthing.Credit:Justin McManus

“I think people are looking for more interesting ways to get their exercise,” Mr Bolwell said. Riding a “penny” was a “brilliant way to interact” – drawing smiles without riders having to be in close contact with others.

Doug Suter from Brunswick, who is known for riding daily through the CBD, has ordered his second penny farthing from Mr Bolwell – a lighter racing model to complement his commuter bike.

Vets, too, have seen a spike in business. Non-profit Lort Smith Animal Hospital in North Melbourne is “bursting at the seams”, says its head of hospital David Cunliffe. In the first six months of this year, its emergency vets treated 7400 animals, compared with 12,023 in all of 2020 and 10,225 in 2019.

Dr Cunliffe said reasons for the rise may include closure of the night service at the University of Melbourne’s emergency centre at Werribee and more clients being unable to afford expensive private vet fees at other clinics. Repeated lockdowns have also prompted a rise in pet adoptions, and owners being at home perhaps makes them more conscious of pets’ health issues.

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