IT'S been an extraordinary 12 months for Hawkesbury businesses owners, who have suffered through declined patronage due to drought, flood, bushfire and now COVID-19.
But a cluster of business-owners are fighting back, in a bid to raise awareness - and sales - via a new campaign they dub 'Local Is Back'.
Spearheaded by the co-owner of Windsor Mall-based homewares and giftwares store Manor on George, Benjamin Woodbury, the campaign aims to cash-in on the propensity for Hawkesbury locals to 'buy local' during the recent global health crisis.
"We have the diversity of shops in Windsor Mall that you don't need to go to the big superpowers like Westfield to find what you're looking for," Mr Woodbury told the Gazette.
"Windsor Mall has a boutique vibe; it's every little [business owner] family's passion and livelihood, creating a unique culture for shoppers."
Alicia Goldstien, owner of nearby jewellery, gifts and homewares store By A Farmer's Daughter, said the coronavirus pandemic "brought an awareness of buying local and buying Australian", and the Local Is Back campaign was a result of Windsor Mall business owners "trying to transition" during the crisis.
"We're sending a message to support local," Ms Goldstien said.
Mr Woodbury agreed supporting local outlets during the crisis was important.
"COVID restrictions would normally limit businesses, but people have been buying local - maybe when they wouldn't have otherwise," he said.
"I never ate takeout [and supported local businesses] as much as I did during COVID."
The shop owners hope the support from the community will continue. They have printed shirts with the words Local Is Back across the front, and the words are also written on chalkboards around the mall.
"The shirts are to create awareness in the sense that there are a lot of like-minded people, both in the community and the shop-owners, and we're asking a rhetorical question: Are you buying local?" Mr Woodbury said.
Julie Kelly, owner of neighbouring beauty boutique, Gallery 20 - which was forced to shut temporarily during the crisis - said she heard a lot of kind words from locals during the period and noticed the community "rally together".
"One person can make a difference," she said.
"Look at where things are made, and look first in your own backyard."
Jump-starting Windsor Mall
Windsor Mall is currently involved in the Place Score Jumpstart program, developed in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and off the back of bushfires, drought and other external factors impacting local economies.
The Jumpstart program is being delivered in four towns across NSW and Victoria all with the goal of building shared capacity, local economic resilience and long term success through positive short-term actions that can be implemented by local stakeholders.
Place Score will work closely with businesses from Windsor Mall over a six-week period to develop an achievable action plan focussed on key challenges facing the mall.
Hawkesbury City Council has allocated $25,000 of funding to put towards implementing the actions proposed by the plan.
Eleven local businesses are on the Jumpstart Team, attending online sessions and providing information regarding local trading conditions.
Kylie Legge, CEO of Place Score, said: "After visiting the [Windsor Mall] area over the long weekend and meeting our Business Leadership team I already see so many great opportunities for positive change. In the meantime I encourage locals to shop local and talk to local businesses about your needs - the customer really does come first!"
The Jumpstart program will soon he heading to South Windsor as well. If you are interested in getting involved, email email@example.com.