A Cobden business owner has likened the past 12 months in retail to a horror show as the town continues to recover from the St Patrick's Day fires.
The Butcher's Cut owner Marlin Walsh said times were tough. "The town's still fairly quiet and fairly slow economically," Mr Walsh said. "It hasn't got back to where it was pre-fires."
He said they were forced to close a second store in Camperdown in December, leaving three workers unemployed.
"We've just consolidated at Cobden to focus on the main store and make it survive, but it is only surviving. It's not thriving at the moment. We were growing the business and it was going pretty well and then the last 12 months have been a horror show really.
"I would say at least 60 to 70 per cent of businesses in the main street are currently for sale and two or three of those would have been (listed) recently."
He said a slowing economy, low milk prices and high operating costs hadn't helped.
Mr Walsh said affected families were shopping elsewhere and had changed their weekly habits. "We're all searching for answers to work out how to get more people through our doors but at the moment it's easier said than done."
He plans to stick it out and is hopeful that Cobden can come back bigger and better.
"It's one of those things, eventually you've got to go as far as you can and then work out if it's worthwhile," Mr Walsh said. "Since Christmas, and this could be a nationwide economic problem, but it's really slowed up. It's as bad as we've ever had it."
Cobden Newsagency owners Karen and Andrew McConachy said the fire affected 22 families in the area, some of which had to move, having a "significant effect on the township".
"The peat fires virtually closed the town down for a few days so it had a significant effect on the township and particularly the retail sector," Mrs McConachy said. "People felt it was unsafe to come here while the smoke from the peat fires was still around so it was quite a significant blow to us as a retailer."
She said as customers lost their letterboxes in the fires and Cobden hospital patients were relocated for safety reasons, they didn't need newspapers delivered.
"There's lots of little bits and pieces that add up to a substantial effect. It's taking time. As everyone else gets back together, it will slowly, slowly come back to us hopefully."
Mrs McConachy said business was fairly quiet and a cafe in their complex had closed about six months ago. "We're still hanging in there. We're not a destination like an accountants, you rely on foot traffic that's the nature of the retail sector."
She said local farmers had been hit with "so many waves of difficulties".
"If the farmers are not doing well then they don't spend and that affects retail. It has a flow-on effect. All the little bits add up."
Rural items in high demand as owners rebuild properties
The Terang Co-Op provided all the vital materials helping fire-affected owners rebuild and repair their properties in its immediate aftermath.
Chief executive Kevin Ford said the co-op's rural and hardware business arms experienced a "considerable increase". "I'm sure everybody who trades in the rural sector had a substantial increase in farm-related materials," Mr Ford said. "It's hard to measure but there was a steady trade in grocery.
"Certainly in the rural sector, the immediate response to the fire was a considerable increase in sales in replacement of fencing and housing."
By August or September, it had returned to "a normal trade period" which he said had continued.
He said the business stocked essential, rather than discretionary items. "From the co-op's perspective we're there for our members and I hope we were there when they needed us."
For Terang Newsagency owner of 18 years Chris O'Brien it was a different story as customers capped their spending.
"It was certainly quiet immediately after the fires," he said. "It was very quiet for quite a number of months afterwards but it's picked up a bit.
"I think leading into Christmas and beyond it has picked up."
Mr O'Brien said in the weeks following the fires, people were busy cleaning up and helping those affected at their properties.
"We rely heavily on the farming community," he said. "Of course a lot of the farmers were burnt out and then people were making donations to the farmers, so certainly any disposable income didn't come our way. It was going elsewhere."
He said he was feeling "fairly confident" going into the next 12 months in business.
"Once again it depends on the farming community as to how Terang goes," Mr O'Brien said.
"If they have plenty of rain and the seasons are as they should be then we'll be fine, but if the seasons aren't, then the farmers don't get a decent income, then we all miss out.
"We are heavily reliant on the farming community. Even though the town folk are terrific and support us, you do need the farmers as well to be spending that money in the town, they are a huge part of the community."
Terang Guardian chemist retail manager Amanda Faulkner said for those affected it was an individual journey 12 months on.
Mrs Faulkner said the small community was on hand to help and support in the days and months after the fire.
"Everybody knew somebody who was affected and to see people almost moving back into houses that have been rebuilt that's really good, but then other people are struggling to get fencing done. The battle's not over.
"Because there's so many different parts to that day, it's hard to pinpoint how the community as a whole is going because there's people who are not in a good place 12 months on."
She said the effects of the fire would be ongoing and for many it was a bittersweet time.
"You get that really good feeling when you hear that people are able to move into new homes, but you also feel for people for who it's a real struggle. Even 12 months on, it's not resolved as such. It will linger for quite some time."
She said it was a new chapter for people who were forced to rebuild, while they were also lamenting at what they had lost.
"Even though they have a brand new house to move into, it's what was in the last one, all those memories. As much as it's a happy day, it would also be filled with a lot of sad, emotional memories as well."
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