'We have never thought of giving up at any stage': Edenhope's only motel soldiers on

OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Edenhope Motor Inn's co-owner Mandeep Singh says they will do what it takes not to close down. Picture: CONTRIBUTED
OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Edenhope Motor Inn's co-owner Mandeep Singh says they will do what it takes not to close down. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The co-owner of Edenhope's only motel says he will do whatever he can to keep the business open.

Mandeep Singh has operated the Edenhope Motor Inn for 13 months, after purchasing the business with a partner, Mintu Brar.

He is seeking help from his landlord to waive rent payments, where currently they are adjourned until the end of the year.

Mr Singh said his landlord had postponed 50 per cent of each rental payment, but hoped to receive the rest of the rent at the end of the year or in instalments.

"I think we will request him to either waive the 50 per cent, not to adjourn or postpone (it) because we are not going to get a double of the income so we can pay the rest of the rent," he said.

"If things come back to normal, we will be able to pay the full rent only. We are hopeful they will consider (our request)."

Mr Singh said he and his business partner had never thought of closing down the motel.

"We will work hard, we can pay from our pocket and can do our jobs. Whatever our liability is, we have to do that. It is the only motel in the town, so it is not good if we turn our back on this business," he said.

In the second step of restrictions easing, accommodation providers can only operate for permitted purposes only.

Under the third step they can open further with density quotients, and people can visit from other regional areas.

Mr Singh said the motor inn had had half its rooms occupied in recent days with farmworkers.

"If 50 per cent of our rooms are occupied for the rest of the year, we would consider it very good business," he said.

Adding to the challenges for Mr Singh has been the closure of the in-house restaurant after the two people running it left last month. He lives in Adelaide and has not been able to get to Edenhope with the border closure.

In April, the state government introduced a temporary ban on evictions and funding to encourage landlords to offer rent relief to tenants that have lost income to the COVID-19 pandemic. This ban was extended until the end of the year in August.

Under the Victorian commercial tenancy relief scheme, tenants must be on JobKeeper to be eligible for reductions, and must agree with landlords on a reduction that reflects their income loss.

Mr Singh has received a $5000 state government hardship grant as an employing business affected by the latest round of stage three restrictions.

He said he supported the roadmap released by Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday September 6, which some have criticised for being too slow to reopen regional Victoria.

"If it happens, then it will be quicker to get back to normal, and it will be easier for our regional businesses," he said.

"We are not losing hope. We are planning to open the restaurant again with a new takeaway menu and more options, maybe next week. We are looking to hire a cook from Edenhope."

The motor inn's landlord, Jack Storey, is himself a small business owner in Ballarat.

He is negotiating the conditions of a new lease with his landlord, after his income in August dropped by 70 per cent compared to a normal year.

"I can understand where (the motor inn's tenants) are coming from, and I would help them in every possible way," he said.

"The last thing I want is for our tenants to walk away, because I would have to get someone else to run the place. I would say every landlord is in the same position.

"You've got people who are retired and are landlords, and the rent from their commercial and investment properties is their only income. It's a hard situation and no one's in the wrong: If COVID-19 didn't happen, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Mr Storey owned the post office in Edenhope before moving away in 2014. He said commercial tenants needed "outside the box" solutions to remain in business across the length of the pandemic.

"Governments say you should work with your landlord, but I think there should also be ways of working around it," he said.

"Why can't the government look at something like a university HECS debt, especially for small businesses: Give some funding which they start repaying when they reach 70 per cent of their turnover in a normal year."