At a stroke past midnight, the first shoppers stormed Melbourne’s Kmart stores for cushions and clothes, and within six hours on October 28, 10,000 people released a pent-up craving to spend after more than 100 days of lockdown.

Melbourne’s mood is improving as Covid-19 cases are being eliminated and that relief being felt by shoppers should translate into a spending spree, as it did in after the first lockdown.

With the 25km travel limit removed, confidence restored and Christmas rapidly approaching, foot traffic at Chadstone Shopping Centre and other suburban outlets will rocket in the coming weeks.

Retail sales across the country recovered according to September quarter data, although there was a seasonally adjusted fall of 1.1 per cent across all states for the month of September.

In Victoria, that fall was much smaller than most states, but it was coming from a low base after the second round of lockdowns took full effect in August. Spending at cafes and restaurants was up in September, as it was in department stores, but most other categories declined.

Now there’s freedom to move and spend, retail activity should be strong right through to the New Year. The most valuable trading period of the year will be a bright spark after a long period of gloom.

Business owners must capitalise on the moment because from February, when the euphoria wears off and Government support dries up, the crunch will be back on retailers.

We are already starting to see employers roll off JobKeeper and by the end of March when all support ends, the problem of employee retention will strike again. A spike in unemployment from April will damage consumer confidence.

For hospitality-based businesses, the biggest present hurdle remains seating enough people to operate profitably. Sites that have capacity to host 200 or 300 people are limited to 20 or 50 people because of social distancing.

For many venues, they need a lot of people through the door to make it profitable and some places will be opening to lose money.

After so many weeks locked down in fear, there was concern people would not return to higher density venues.

But new data from the Westpac-Melbourne Institute shows consumer confidence in Victoria has returned with some force, a rise of 9 per cent in November. Nationwide, consumer sentiment is tracking 13 per cent above where it was for the six months prior to the pandemic hitting in March.

Victorian shopping centres should be taking a lead from what they are seeing in other states, which are three months ahead in terms of recovery.

In the short term, retailers are still going to be managing their businesses using wages funded by JobKeeper to minimise that net outflow.

Victorians are thankful that movement restrictions are finally being eased and retail trading will strengthen in the weeks leading up to the festive season.

Retail business owners need to make the most of increasing confidence and a busy trading period but also be preparing for a downturn in the first quarter of next year.

Mark Harrison is partner/executive director at Pitcher Partners.