ONLY weeks after being named the best breakfast cafe on the north coast, Bent on Food has brought in the tables. It looks closed. But it's not.
Last Wednesday a council ranger came into town and was welcomed by a vibrant Isabella Street in all its cosmopolitan glory.
But in his wake tables, chairs, sandwich boards, dress racks and even a door mat disappeared from sight and locals have been left with what could be described as a "ghost town."
Many shopkeepers in Wingham were caught out by a periodic check of licences necessary for the placement of private items on the road reserve (footpath). Though council claims a number of businesses were compliant, the barren landscape painted a very different picture.
Donna Carrier, owner of Bent on Food and Bent on Life, claimed there was an immediate change in her businesses after all her furniture was brought in.
"Both my businesses were 25 per cent down," she said.
As president of the Wingham Chamber of Commerce, Donna was also faced with a very unhappy business community. "These are tough economic times," she said of her concern for small businesses losing trade. "We would like for common sense to prevail."
A quick resolution was sought and Greater Taree City Council offered business owners the chance to apply for temporary licences.
According to their official statement this would enable businesses to use street furniture whilst the details of space and location are considered.
But the reality of the cost of licences and just where businesses can locate their items has sparked outrage on Isabella Street.
"It's discourteous and shows a lack of understanding of the operation of a small business," said Belinda Robertson, owner of 99 Isabella Street home of her own Isabella Herbals and tenant Delinquent Funk.
Belinda said that each business has to pay a one-off licence application fee of $310 plus an annual charge for the items on the footpath.
According to council the fees and charges are set as part of the budget process.
These fees and charges are put on public exhibition for community members to comment on prior to adoption. Council said there is nothing to stop them from reviewing and amending fees and charges at any point in the year.
As for Donna she has been told by council that her tables and chairs must be two metres from the front of her building.
"We can see how unsafe it will be to have our stuff out on the road like that," she said of the required placement just one metre from the road.
Council suggests that best practice for people with impairment is that the walls of buildings are kept clear as they are used to navigate. However the placement of furniture can be addressed by way of a modified consent issued through the Development Application Process.
Such a process, according to council, ensures that business needs and council requirements are both met.
As local business owners fill out forms and await the necessary consent for furniture, they remind visitors to take a second look.
Empty the streets may be but be assured it is not a ghost town. Wingham is still very much open for business and currently very easy to navigate.