Canberra's retail sector dried up in the midst of January's series of extraordinary weather events, with new data revealing the ACT experienced the sharpest drop in spending in the nation in the first month of year.
New Australian Bureau of Statistics figures have shown just show much the local retail sector struggled as the city suffocated through a persistent smoke haze, was struck by a freak hailstorm and braced for bushfires at the start of 2020.
Coronavirus was only emerging as a serious economic threat at the end of January, meaning the full affects of the global outbreak on the local retail sector will only became apparent in the coming months.
The territory recorded $508 million in retail trade turnover in January, down 2.3 per cent on the December result, according to ABS data.
I think the biggest thing was the inability on any given day to say it was over, because just when we thought it was over another event would occur.Canberra Business Chamber interim chief executive Graham Catt
Canberra's retail sector suffered far more severely than those in New South Wales (0.1 drop), Victoria (0.2 fall) and South Australia (0.1 increase), despite the three states being hit with devastating bushfires over the holiday period.
The data showed that no part of the local retail sector was spared by January's unprecedented combination of events.
Grocers and supermarkets took a major hit, with food retail spending falling almost three per cent. Spending in cafes and restaurants was down about 1.5 per cent, while turnover for clothing, footwear and accessories dropped more than three per cent.
Despite the fall, the ACT still recorded highest retail trade per capita in the country in January - and by some margin.
Canberra Business Chamber interim chief executive Graham Catt said the figures confirmed the anecdotal evidence it had received from retailers during the tumultuous start to the year.
"We knew from individual stories that the impact had been profound, and this is really the first piece of data that supports that," Mr Catt said.
"What it shows is that while we weren't directly impacted by fires ... there was an impact from particularly the smoke haze on the economy and on consumer confidence.
"I think the biggest thing was the inability on any given day to say it was over, because just when we thought it was over another event would occur."
Canberra businesses affected by the bushfires are able to apply for concessional loans, after the ACT government struck a deal with the Commonwealth to support the recovery effort.
Mr Catt said the government should help establish a business advice service to support retailers as they attempt to trade through the summer and prepare for the next one.
He said while consumer confidence appeared to be returning, the government might also need to consider extra measures in this year's budget to further support the sector.
The federal government was on Sunday reportedly preparing to announce a $5 billion economic stimulus package to manage the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, which would include financial support for pensioners, local councils and business owners.