Two communities are in shock after small-town businesses were the target of a crime spree in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The front door of the Pyrenees Hotel at Lexton was rammed about 4am.
Brett Lennard, who has owned the hotel with his partner Margaret Beaumont for 10 years, discovered the damage when he arrived at his business later in the morning.
"[I] found the front door had been rammed and smashed in. They've gotten in and taken alcohol," he said.
Mr Lennard said the break-in made him "feel sick".
Across the road, the Lexton Community Co-operative and post office was also targeted. Manager Christine Richards arrived at work in the morning to discover that the front door had been jimmied open and that the interior of the building was "in disarray".
Ms Richards, who described her workplace as the community's "local hub", said she was "quite shocked" that it occurred in an otherwise safe community.
Some groceries were taken along with a computer, which is available for community members to access the internet or to print off documents.
Then, about 4.50am, a male offender attempted to jimmy open the front door of the Waubra General Store and Post Office.
Unsuccessful with this attempt, he then jumped back in his car and rammed the front of the building multiple times.
The sounds of the revving engine and loud thuds woke a neighbour, Simon, who walked out of his house. His presence reportedly startled the male, who then sped away from the scene with some outdoor furniture stolen from the front of the shop.
The thuds and ensuing noise of the car speeding up the street also woke the business' owners, Karen Hinchliffe and her husband James, who live on the other side of the shop.
Checking the CCTV cameras installed in their home, they could see the ice-cream freezer had been pushed into the middle of their shop and immediately concluded that their business of almost two decades had been rammed.
Rushing out onto the street, where a number of their neighbours had also begun to gather, they saw the damage to the front of the store and called the police.
While she has heard of similar incidents occurring in nearby towns, such as Clunes, Ms Hinchliffe said she "couldn't believe" that their small shop had been targeted as they do not sell cigarettes or alcohol, nor do they keep a large amount of cash on the premises.
Ms Hinchliffe and her husband have run the shop on the Sunraysia Highway - a postal outlet with a general store that also sells takeaway food - without incident for nearly 17 years.
"It's just a country shop with country people. It's the first time anything like this has ever happened," she told The Courier, adding that in a small town, it was also a gathering place for community members.
"It's very disappointing. We are just shocked that someone would do this to a small town."
It's very disappointing. We are just shocked that someone would do this to a small townKaren Hinchliffe
However, they are exceptionally grateful for their neighbour who disrupted the man before he could enter the store.
While police were at the scene in the morning, including Crime Scene Services, business did not stop - a van dropped off numerous parcels ordered by those in the community.
Ms Hinchliffe was also eager to have the newspapers left sitting at the front of the premises delivered - they were unable to be at the usual time due to the crime scene being established.
While the incident disrupted normal business on Thursday, its owners are determined to return to normal as soon as possible.
Their cooking equipment appeared not to be damaged, Ms Hinchliffe said, but the structure of the building was to be assessed later in the day. It is hoped insurance will cover the cost of repairing the damage.
The incident has spurred Ms Hinchliffe to begin thinking about having concrete bollards installed at the front of the property, to ensure such an incident does not happen again.
"You wouldn't think you should need them out here," Ms Hinchliffe said. "But I think we will have to do that because it's only a little wooden building. We always hoped this day wouldn't come but it has."
A spokesperson from the Ballarat Divisional Response Unit, which is investigating, said the three incidents were linked.
A silver Commodore utility was located abandoned on the Western Freeway in the early hours of the morning.
Police are continuing to investigate if one or more people were involved.
As they continue their investigation and review CCTV footage, they urge anyone with information to contact the DRU on 5338 9200.
A confidential report can be made via Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or online at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.