The future of the iconic Bells Milk Bar is hanging in the balance after a whopping 80 per cent increase in electricity charges has been dumped on new owner Matthew Spresser by power provider Red Energy from July 1.
Mr Spresser says despite having a large number of solar panels on the roof, he still can’t keep up with the amount of power the business uses.
In an email he received from Red Energy, his off-peak rate is set to soar 80 per cent, while the so-called shoulder rate is also set to increase 12 per cent, and the peak rate by 15 per cent.
“I understand that prices can go up a certain amount, 10 per cent, 20 per cent, but when you’re talking an 80 per cent increase on a rate, that’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s unbelievable. It astounds me,” Mr Spresser told the Barrier Truth.
“We’re a small business. I’ve got 75 solar panels on the roof and I’m still paying, currently, close to $800 a month in an electricity bill. Now a third of my bill is going to be increased 80 per cent.
“When you keep getting slugged with increase after increase, I don’t know how long Bells could keep going.”
“We came on board to continue the legacy of Bells, to be the custodians of it. But when you keep getting slugged with increase after increase, I don’t know how long Bells could keep going.
“I don’t want to see an establishment like Bells have to close, but when everything keeps going up, when it’s unjustifiable, then there’s nothing else we can do. We’ll see if we’re here in six months. Fingers crossed.”
The notice of electricity rate increases, combined with impending wage increases of six per cent, and the rising cost of his necessary groceries such as milk, ice cream, and sugar, Mr Spresser says his business, as well as the hospitality sector, “are on fine margins and trying to get by”.
“I’m just worried about everything going up in July and how we’re going to manage. The wage increase we can sort of deal with. But once you add on all these other things that just pile on and pile on, there’s a certain breaking point in business where a business is unsustainable to make a profit unless you put your prices up,” he said.
“There’s been no price increase at Bells for I couldn’t tell you how long. We’ve worn the cost. But there comes a time where small business can’t substantiate wearing that cost and are going to have to increase prices. That gets put back onto the community and the small businesses, we’re all going to suffer from that.”
Having only recently taken over the iconic 1950s-style milkshake parlour in April, Mr Spresser worries for the future of not only Bells, but of other small businesses in the Silver City due to what he believes is a lack of support by an Australian government that, “just doesn’t seem to care”.
“The government needs to take action on it because small business, we’re the backbone of the country. We employ so many people, but we’re the ones getting slugged the most. It’s small business that is hurting. It’s just ridiculous,” he said.
“Bells survives on tourism. Without the tourists, we would not be open. Our doors would be shut today. We just don’t get enough locals in to keep the doors open. We rely on the tourists.
“I’m doing everything that I can to keep the doors open, but I feel like I keep getting kicked in the gut every single day with something new.”
Red Energy told us in a statement, “the average price increase for an electricity customer in NSW is 19 per cent”, which they say is less than the default market offer (DMO) of 20 to 25 per cent.