Many businesses have been struggling to make ends meet throughout the government shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In past editions of the North Grenville Times, we have talked about how both local restaurants and spas have been coping over the past few months, as well as the measures they have been implementing to keep their staff and customers safe, now that they are able to partially reopen.
Those in the fitness and wellness sector are still holding on, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Both the Bodhi Tree Yoga Centre and Get Cronk’d Fitness Studio in Old Town Kemptville have been struggling to survive since the shut down in March. “They said close your doors, pay your bills, go online,” says Rebecca Cronk of Get Cronk’d. “That’s not our business model.”
Like many people in the fitness industry, Rebecca started offering online classes for free at first; but, as the shut down wore on with no end in sight, she started to realize that this wasn’t going to work if she wanted to keep her business afloat long term. “If we keep offering this for free, we’re not going to be here when this is over,” she thought.
Melanie Charlebois from the Bodhi Tree also came to the same conclusion. While many yoga teachers were teaching for free online, Melanie decided to start offering a few virtual classes at their regular rate; a necessity, if she was going to keep her brick and motor location sustainable into the future. Even so, her revenue has dropped by 90%. “At least I can use that 10% to pay one of my bills,” she says.
Both Rebecca and Melanie admit that the online format is not ideal for a business model that depends so much on human interaction. Rebecca
is frustrated that the government doesn’t see fitness and wellness as an essential service. “There are big benefits from activity, for physical and mental health,” she says. “I have lots of clients who have reached out to me because we were their support system. Some have gone back to drinking, because they don’t have another outlet.”
Melanie has found this whole experience extremely stressful, especially for a small business owner who depends on the ability to plan for the future. “The word uncertainty is not how you run a business,” she says. Rebecca has had many conversations with her family over the past few months, about when to call it quits. Before the government shut down, she was well on her way to becoming debt free by May 31 of this year. “Now, we’re back to where we started”.
Rebecca has now been told that she is allowed to hold small fitness classes outdoors. She stepped up to the challenge last week ,and is now offering most of her usual classes in the parking lot behind her studio. She finds that holding classes outdoors is challenging, because it is largely weather-dependent, and there are a lot of people who don’t like the idea of working out in the Summer heat. She is also having to work twice as hard to make sure equipment is cleaned, sanitized, and set up before every class. “I’m sorry that’s all we can offer,” Rebecca says. “This is us making lemonade out of lemons.”
Melanie is continuing to offer four virtual classes a week, and has recently opened the retail side of the studio. “Online is not our wheelhouse; but I am doing the best I can with the resources I have to serve the community,” she says. “I am happy to keep the door open and still be able to talk about yoga.”