By Jessica Anstice and Mitchell Clarke
A struggling Berwick businessman has been slapped with a $10,000 fine for illegally operating his clothing store.
Harry Hutchinson, of Harry’s Clothing, completely re-opened his business as normal trade from Monday 12 October ahead of Covid restrictions being eased.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman confirmed officers attended a business on Loveridge Walk, Berwick on Wednesday.
“Officers spoke with the owner who appeared to be operating his business in breach of the Stage 4 Chief Health Officer directions,” the spokeswoman said.
“All customers within the store were moved on and police will now investigate the incident.”
Mr Hutchinson copped another visit from police on Thursday morning, when officers informed him that if he were to re-open, he would be fined.
However, Mr Hutchinson told the Gazette he would be opening his shop doors that afternoon, regardless of the stern warning.
“When I re-opened on Monday, hundreds of people came through and I received so many well wishes and support,” he said.
“The police have been fantastic. They don’t want to be doing this, but they are just doing their job, same as I am.
“I’ve got to make a stand so that’s the reason why I will fight and I won’t be paying the fine.”
The determined businessman claims to be the “unofficial spokesperson” for small businesses across Victoria.
He believes if he backs down, he will be disappointing a lot of people who are in the same boat as him.
“Initially, I was planning on re-opening on Monday after the premier’s announcement on Sunday but we haven’t received any indication that we will receive that news,” he said.
“Word is out on the street that there’s going to be an extension till November – there is no end date and if I was to get an end date, this would all end.
“I’ve got to get small business back. Small business is almost on its knees.”
Since telling his story, Mr Hutchinson has received a barrage of support from the local community.
People right across the state have offered to pay Mr Hutchinson’s fine, in an attempt to stand behind him in support of small businesses reopening.
A GoFundMe page has been among suggestions to help pay the fine, but Mr Hutchinson isn’t a fan of the idea.
“I don’t want charity. I believe I’m responsible and if I get a fine it’s my responsibility of how I choose to handle it,” Mr Hutchinson stated.
“I won’t pay it and I don’t want anyone else to pay it.
“My message is: Please small businesses out there, if you really support me, try and open up your doors asap.”
Federal La Trobe MP Jason Wood said Mr Hutchinson’s story was a heartbreaking tale of local business under the State Government.
“Daniel Andrews’ Labor party are absolutely killing local business,” he said.
“They’re sucking the life out of people by putting these extreme measures in place. They’ve destroyed these family businesses.
“When you look across the board in NSW with more cases, to see they’re open, I can’t even put into words the anger and frustration I feel.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see people like Harry who are absolute pillars of our society, being treated in this way.”
State Liberal Gembrook MP Brad Battin said he would continue to stand up for “all the Harry’s”.
“A small business has the courage to stand up and speak out – the next day he is bullied for daring to want to simply survive,” he said.
“It is offensive, the treatment of small business by Labor, and I will stand up for all the Harry’s, who just want to get back to work.”
Premier Daniel Andrews said there were “consequences when people don’t follow the rules”.
“There are consequences, there are absolutely consequences,” he said, when asked by reporters about Mr Hutchinson.
“We look forward to getting to a point where there can be less rules, but you only get to that point if you properly enforce the ones we have now, and if we all play our part.”