Recreation is a huge part of the fabric of North Grenville. Throughout this second shut down, Council has been encouraging people to get outside and enjoy the amenities that are available in the municipality. This includes cross country skiing trails, a new toboggan hill, and now skating in Curry Park. Although these are all great options for winter activities, they don’t do much to help the many studios and gyms that were closed for a month and a half after Christmas due to COVID-19. Many have pivoted their businesses online, but the pandemic has still been a very stressful time for the recreation-based business owners in the municipality.
Boss Thai Boxing in Kemptville officially opened their doors on Maley Street in January, 2020. Thai Boxing is Thailand’s national sport, and it is often called the art of eight limbs, as you use your hands, elbows, legs and knees on both sides of the body. Co-owner, Yuki Yamanaka, says they were just starting to hit their stride with new clients when they were forced to shut down in March. Thankfully, they had some savings that helped keep them afloat through the first shut down and they were able to move online to offer two virtual classes a day, plus other online content. When they were able to open back up in July, they signed new members and sold quite a bit of merchandise, even though they were only able to operate at a reduced capacity. “We were able to build our war chest again, our small war chest,” Yuki says.
When the second shut down hit, Boss Thai Boxing went back online with the goal of trying to keep their members engaged and motivated. “Just keeping everyone active, and trying to keep everyone engaged with our other content, like technique videos on Tuesdays, work out of the day video on Wednesdays, and motivation Monday videos” was the aim. They even have a free community class on Saturday mornings. “Our last few classes have been a great success. A huge turnout and a lot of names I’m not even familiar with. It’s fantastic. It’s good to see that people are taking advantage, getting active and joining us to try something new.”
Although Yuki and his partners, Khris Collins and Milena Hrebacka, have been trying to keep positive, Yuki admits that running a new business in a pandemic has been a challenge. “We know the potential is there, yet we just can’t establish ourselves. We can’t grow and flourish like we want to. It’s almost like seeing the goal in front of you, but it’s just out of reach.”
Even though it has been a struggle to keep Boss Thai Boxing afloat, they are very thankful for the grants and loans they have been able to access from the Ontario government and the Municipality of North Grenville. Yuki and the Boss Thai Boxing team are determined to make it through. “Thai Boxing is a combat sport and, much like combat, we have to pivot, we have to adjust. We have to find different ways to solve the problem, because that’s what it is, it’s human problem solving. We could just roll over and deal with the lockdown and just accept it, or we can take the lockdown and find ways to pivot and work around it.”
Nancy Morgan of the Workshop Dance Studio, in the same building as Boss Thai Boxing, has also been working hard at adapting her business to make ends meet. During the first shut down, she transferred most of her classes online and offered a membership program through a website called Patreon. When she was able to welcome students back into the studio in August, she had to limit the number of people in the class and make sure she had time to clean and sanitize between sessions. Masks were also required during all classes, and a screening and temperature check was done before a student could enter the studio. “People were awesome,” Nancy remembers. “I didn’t get any grief about the masks. People really wanted to come back. Often I heard that they felt this was very safe.”
Nancy was also proactive in searching out grants that would help her run her business during COVID-times. In November, she was successful in receiving a technology grant from Grenville Community Futures Development Corporation that she used to upgrade her technology to provide better quality for her students at home.
For the month of January, Nancy offered her classes for free, to help the community beat the winter blues. She called it Let’s Keep Moving and it was very successful, with lots of people taking part in both her live and recorded classes. “A huge chunk of them migrated to now being paid clients. Not all of them, but it was not my intention. That wasn’t my goal. My goal was just to keep people moving, but it was really nice to see that they appreciated it and wanted to continue.”
Although Nancy hasn’t been able to turn a profit for months, she is managing to cover her bills. Her main concern is the impact that the pandemic is having on the wider business community. As a very active member, she feels that many businesses have lost the connection with each other that they had pre-pandemic. “At least I found that there was a ra-ra kind of feeling in Kemptville. These lockdowns are killing that spirit, and we are not the big problem.”
Kevin Eamon of Rock My House Music Centre on South Gower Drive has definitely had his business and spirits crushed by the government-mandated lockdowns. “It’s been a nightmare,” he says. During the first shut down, Kevin was able to get deferrals from the bank, and his landlord received the rent subsidy, which helped keep the lights on. However, he didn’t qualify for any other relief, because all of his teachers are self employed. He definitely felt that his business was in danger during the first shut down, with all the debt he was having to incur.
Kevin was somewhat prepared for this second lockdown, and expects there to be a third. He has applied for funding from the government, but is still waiting to hear whether he qualifies. He is ready to open his doors as soon as the government allows, as he has all the safety protocols in place to keep his students and teachers safe, including screens, mandatory masks, and hand sanitizer at the door. Running a music business during a pandemic has placed a huge strain on Kevin’s mental health. He says the most frustrating part is that the government doesn’t believe music is essential, when he sees its immense benefit every day. “Music therapy is essential. People are so stressed, they come to things like this and the gym and stuff like that. Those are more essential than a lot of the stuff that’s open.”
J-Glow Fitness is another studio in Kemptville that has been forced to shut their doors during both lockdowns. Like other fitness studios, owner Jessica Goodhue was able to move all her classes online. During the first shut down, they were offering all their classes live, but Jessica found that a lot of people couldn’t make them work for their schedules. For the second lockdown, she built a content library of classes that clients could use on their own time. With over 100 videos and 17 class types, J-Glow offers everything from strength and mobility focused classes, to glowsticks drumming, cardio kickboxing, and Pilates. “Literally any kind of class you can think of, we have it,” Jessica says.
Despite the fact that Jessica has tried to remain positive through the pandemic, it has definitely been a challenge. A big part of her business was running glow in the dark birthday parties and events, all of which have had to be cancelled. “We had 52 events pre-booked, and deposits down for our events, when we first shut down, which are still not able to open up. I think the hardest part for me was trying to deal with the emails and customers, when all I wanted to do was just give them refunds. I’m really big on giving more than you get, and I couldn’t. I felt like I was taking from people what I didn’t deserve.”
Financially, J-Glow has taken a big hit, which has also been very stressful for Jessica, with revenues down 70%. “We’ve lost everything. All the money that we had saved. And we’re into our loans, so for that part it’s a little bit stressful, because I don’t know what the future brings. I take it day by day, and just try to keep motivated and keep everybody else motivated, and looking at the positive stuff and hoping for the best.”
Jessica is currently competing in a competition to be on the cover of Jetset Magazine. It is a worldwide competition, and she is up against models, actresses, and influencers with thousands of followers. That being said, she has made it to the quarter finals and, if she is voted Miss Jetset, she will not only be on the cover of the magazine, but she will also win $50,000. “When I saw it, I thought I had to try, because it was the exact amount that I lost.” To vote for Jessica, you can visit their website – www.j-glow.com.
With the government announcement last week, many of these businesses may now be ready to welcome clients back into their spaces. According to the health unit, we are currently in Green-prevent, which allows these businesses to reopen with restrictions. Check out their websites and social media to see if/when they will be re-opening and the protocols they have in place to keep everyone safe.
- Boss Thai Boxing and Fitness, 104 Maley Street. www.bossthaiboxing.com.
- The Workshop Dance Studio, 215 Sanders Street. 613-868-9062. www.theworkshopdancestudio.com.
- Rock My House Music Centre, 669 South Gower Drive. 613-258-5656. www.rockmyhousmc.com.
- J-Glow Fitness, 29 Clothier Street E. 613-415-7591. www.j-glow.com