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'We're the lucky ones': George Street shop owners holding on tight

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Forty years ago, Nang and her husband Jin Ran Wu opened their small pharmacy on Sydney's bustling George Street, managing to buy the shop space within two years of opening.

Now, as the once-busy road has been fenced off and foot traffic reduced to a fraction for the construction of the new light rail line, the Wus realise just how fortunate they are.

"We are the lucky ones, not many people are so lucky, like the Ming Hoi restaurant, they worked [sic] every day and they couldn't afford it with the rent and the wages and customer drop," Mrs Wu said.

Before buying their shop for $85,000 in 1980, the couple were leasing for two years at $120 a week, while similar businesses are now paying upwards of $5000 a week, she said.

But owning the property doesn't mean their business hasn't been affected, it simply means they have been able to survive.  

"The [profit] has gone down most days to a quarter, when they started [construction on] this side it went down to half but now it's a quarter," Mrs Wu said.


Their loss of income has meant the couple have had to cut down on staff, and take up more shifts at the pharmacy themselves.  

Construction on the light rail, set to operate from Circular Quay to Randwick and Kingsford, began more than two years ago, with only the first two sections of George Street in the CBD open to pedestrians. 

The section outside Wu's Pharmacy - between Hay and Goulburn streets - was supposed to be completed on July 14, 2017, according to Transport NSW, but the consortium managing the $2.1 billion project have failed to give specific completion dates.

"Everyone is saying it will be lucky if they complete it in 2019," Mrs Wu said.

Vicky Wu, manager of Leung Wai Kee Buddhist Craft and Joss Stick Trading Co, near to Wu's Pharmacy, had similar views. 

"Council sent us the letter around June last year about the road opening before Christmas time, but after that we received another letter around November saying they will open the road around March this year.

"But I believe that is impossible," she said.

Ms Wu said her business has also had to bear the brunt of the George Street transport issues.

"The business earnings have dropped down to 50 per cent since light rail construction," she said.

"Customers tell us they think our shop is closed because the road is blocked and the [shop] name and everything, they couldn't see it that way from Market City."

While NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, previously stated foot traffic would "go through the roof" once the project was complete, Ms Wu has raised concern over the limited street parking that many of her customers relied upon to transport large and fragile purchases.

Laurie Ward, general manager of Aceben Loan Office, also on George Street, said the foot traffic was not going to be of any benefit.

"I don't think it will make any difference, we're so close to Central [Station] that it was never going to make any difference for us," Mr Ward said.

"I think that it's just a pain that we are going to have to put up with for the time being.

"We're still thinking about making a claim for a rental rebate and how we might structure that.

"This has been going on over here for over 12 months and we're pretty much over it," he said.

Businesses along the light-rail route can apply for backdated rent relief from the state government, but eligibility for rent assistance is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Despite the criticism over the long-term changes to George Street, Mrs Wu of Wu's Pharmacy does think it will be worth it when it is complete.

"Looking in the long term, when it's all finished it will be good. It will bring people … it's just for the time being we have to be patient."