Less than a week into NSW's new vaccination requirements, businesses across Albury have suffered abuse for following public health orders and been targeted by malicious anti-vax groups online threatening boycotts.
One Albury business manager, who wished to remain anonymous for fears of further abuse from anti-vaxxers, said they had been unable to sleep due to the level of online abuse they had received after saying they would follow vaccination requirements.
"I had sleepless nights waiting for Monday to see what would happen," they said. "I had nightmares there would be broken windows out front.
"It's hard not to take it personally.
"I was concerned about staff and what sort of aggression they might get from possible customers.
"I even thought about security and getting extra security measures."
The manager said luckily the abuse hadn't transitioned into real life yet, but threats of online boycotts were disappointing.
"It's heartbreaking, just heartbreaking," they said.
"In the end trying to run a business and trying to support the community and trying to support staff and it's just heartbreaking to read things like that."
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Superintendent Paul Smith revealed yesterday police had been called to a number of incidents related to vaccination certificates.
"We're expecting coming into the weekend and weekend nightlife there may be further calls for assistance from businesses," he said.
Superintendent Smith urged the public to be respectful of staff enforcing health orders and urged businesses to call the police for support when needed.
Member for Albury Justin Clancy said people needed to support, not attack, businesses.
"Obviously we're seeing Facebook pages where individuals in our communities are taking whacks at businesses because they are trying to do the right thing," he said.
"We should not be condoning that, we need to be giving our businesses as much support as we can at the moment.
"It is very upsetting to see businesses that are trying to do the right thing and getting punishment from individuals in the community as a result of that."
Albury Business Connect President Lisa Hastie said the next few weeks would be challenging.
"Physically we want our businesses not to have to put up with abuse and disrespect but that goes for the online community as well, it's been a tough 18 months for business and they certainly don't need any more roadblocks," she said. "These businesses and employees are part of our community.
"They're brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and they don't deserve it."
Australian Industry Group's Tim Farrah said the issue had become 'vexed'.
"It is concerning because these businesses are abiding by the law," he said.
"They've been through a horrid time trying to keep doors open so people so can pay the mortgage and staff, and staff can pay their mortgage and put food on table.
"We will never all agree on everything all the time in life, but we support each other - so to be proactively boycotting businesses is really pretty low."
Albury mayor Kevin Mack said the mandate was tough on businesses as well, cutting them off from about 30 per cent of customers.
"People need to be patient and people need to understand [staff and businesses] are not their punching bags and they're not their verbal punching bags," he said.
"Have a bit of respect, they've been through enough already. Hold the phone and do the right thing.
"[It's] ridiculous. Self-interest is no interest as far as I'm concerned, let's all do the right thing and be respectful."
Mr Farrah said hospitality, tourism and retail businesses had been 'absolutely smashed' the last few years.
"They're barely surviving," he said.
"Every customer is just so important to their survival and to their staff as well to their jobs."
River Deck owner Alex Smit said apart from 'some interesting phone calls' they haven't experienced any issues when asking people to show their vaccination certificate.
"Everyone has been very considerate and understanding which has been great," he said.
"Things have been pretty quiet... in the last few days we're at least 30 to 50 per cent down on last week, however we've found whenever there are these changes, it takes quite a few weeks for everyone to get used to the new status quo and new regulations."
Brady's Railway Hotel general manager Graeme Meredith said business had dropped about 75 per cent since the mandate came into effect.
"A lot of people are venting their frustrations you could say, about not being able to prove it, they say they're double vaxxed but can't prove it so there's a bit of frustration but we've had no actual attitude yet," he said.
Mr Meredith said although they had some responsibility it shouldn't be up to businesses to solely enforce the new restrictions.
He's seen posts online from people weighing up whether it's worth going to work because of the abuse, and feels for small businesses and young staff members not used to dealing with people's frustrations.
"For some businesses it's a lot harder than for say a pub where you're accustomed to following the letter of the law," he said.
"With the [Responsible Serving of Alcohol] and the rest we're almost trained for it, but a little cafe or a shoe shop, or a 15-year-old at Kmart..."
Chair of Albury Business Connect Barry Young said businesses were in a very difficult position.
"People have a right to their views but I think harassment and bullying in any form not acceptable whether physically or online," he said.
"People have their personal view and that's fair enough, but businesses are only complying with public health order and risking fines should they not comply.
"Businesses have done it tough over the COVID period and this is just another layer of stress. They can't afford to go against the public health order, but it's placing more stress on them."
Mr Young's business Essential Ingredient is deemed critical because of its food sales and therefore can open to vaccinated and unvaccinated patrons.
But as a Dean Street retailer Mr Young has heard firsthand about the abuse businesses are receiving.
"It's really placing staff in difficult position, you shouldn't have to expect staff to potentially be in place where they're getting harassed or bullied," he said. "It becomes a difficult proposition for business owners on how to police this."
Mr Young said ideally it would have been great if the government took a different approach and allowed areas that weren't in lockdown to continue as they had been, as the 'reopening' had actually created more restrictions in Albury.
Business NSW regional manager for the Riverina Murray, Anthony McFarlane, said the past 18 months had been very difficult for hospitality and retail businesses and called for customers to be patient and respectful.
Mr Farrah said at the end of the day, it was a matter of respect.
"You'd just hope in a community like ours people have enough respect that if asked not to enter premises they wouldn't and would do right thing," he said.
"Respect is the key word here.
"We respect each others choice, we're a democracy - a democracy sorely tested at different times in the pandemic - but at the end of day we have the freedom of choice."
So far police have not had to respond to any businesses who are violating the public health order, but will investigate any blatant disregard of the orders reported to them, Superintendent Smith said.
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