Now more than ever, small business owners have been forced to adapt. Within the last six weeks, local businesses have lived through closures, re-openings, and then re-closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. As businesses look for ways to survive during such an uncertain time, creativity is key.
For local fitness studios, that’s meant taking business operations outside; ditching the comfort of an air-conditioned studio for the safer, open-air environment of the parking lot.
At Five Starr Pilates & Fitness in Bixby Knolls, owner Starr Bunch made adjustments to her pilates and cycling studio to prepare for a safe reopening on June 15. After a few weeks of classes, just as business was getting back to its pre-pandemic levels, the order came for her to shut down her business again. But after being open for nearly a month, Bunch says she couldn’t accept closing down again, and had to find a new way to make things work.
“Since we’ve moved outdoors there’s been a huge shift in the morale of people,” Bunch said. “Our clients were very depressed when we came back. Not just because they couldn’t exercise for the physical benefits, but because of the mental release that exercise gives you. And having not had that for three months, I think that’s what made me realize we can’t close, we have to stay open.”
On a typical day, setup begins before 6 a.m., moving reformers outside for the 7 a.m. pilates class. Bunch said she’s gotten help moving the equipment from her son, Nick, but has also had to hire more helping hands to move the heavy equipment. After four classes in the morning, there are evening classes at 6 and 7 p.m., allowing Bunch to get things put away and closed down by 8 p.m. on weekdays.
Included with the exercise equipment, Bunch and her team lay down artificial turf, put up tents for shade, and even bring out fans and a sound system to help improve the experience. Bunch has also made an effort to contact trace with clients. After having a few instructors interact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, Bunch contacted everyone who had taken classes with those instructors in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. It turned out to be a false alarm, but still underscored the importance of communication with clients to keep the community safe.
“Really it’s just a moral thing at this point,” she said of her efforts to contact trace with her clients. “There’s no law, ordinance or health order that says you have to do this, but if you want to stay open and contain it, and keep people from getting sick, you have to do this.”
So far, Bunch says her clients have been understanding and cooperative in the new reality. The changes have been plentiful, but she’s been impressed with how flexible and supportive her membership has been.
“The clients have been really good about communicating with us, and they’re all being very responsible,” Bunch revealed. “Prior to the pandemic, people would come to spin class coughing or with a runny nose–they would come to class sick. But people were more selfish in a sense then. Now, because there’s so much negativity and division, I was prepared for there to be some of that at the studio, but it hasn’t been that way.”
Over in East Long Beach, Alyssa Rubin is the owner of Club Pilates, where they’ve also staked out some unused parking lot space for outdoor pilates classes. After her studio was open for 31 days, she was able to get her landlord to mark out a corner of the Pavilions parking lot where she could set up reformers for four classes per day.
“Lucky for us there’s great tree cover,” Rubin said. “And they mapped out a spot in the parking lot and put up cones and a detour sign for us so it’s safe. Then it became, how do we get these big, behemoth, 150-plus pound machines out into the parking lot to hold classes?”
After laying down carpet and investing in a few dollies and furniture movers, Rubin was able to make the setup a reality. The machines are set up eight feet apart outside, with members required to wear masks, and each machine is sanitized three times in-between uses.
“I have the best team on the planet,” she said. “Every day we’re trying to fine tune the process a little more. We’re offering 16 classes per week now, so it’s significantly less than what it was, but hopefully if we can get the process down a little more we can expand that.”
Club Pilates has continued to offer two live classes per day on Zoom, but Rubin said having that an in-person option for clients was important for her.
“Whatever we can do just to keep people feeling good,” Rubin said. “We have a bit of an older member base, and so quite a few of our members go to the grocery store maybe once a week, and we were the only other place they went to because they felt safe. So if you take that away, then they’re back to just being at home and alone a lot of them … They feel like they’re supporting us and we feel like we’re keeping them moving, so it’s really a win-win.”
Photos courtesy Club Pilates and Five Starr Pilates & Fitness