It’s no surprise that among some of the most affected industries from the pandemic are salons and gyms.
As new cases decline and restrictions loosen, these industries that were hit hard are finally seeing a comeback from a difficult year of keeping up with fluctuating restrictions and safely navigating the crisis. But, local business owners are keeping a positive outlook moving forward.
Christine Bettera owns the fitness studio, Tahoe Flow Arts & Fitness, in Tahoe Vista which is in Placer County.
Gyms and fitness studios opened to a max capacity of 10% on March 14 when the county was upgraded to the red tier from the purple tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
Being closed since last March, with an exception of opening for a month in July, Bettera says has been a huge challenge.
Dealing with the financial stress and fear of both her clients and staff has been a huge factor weighing on her business over the year, especially with no solid foundation or guidelines from the state on how to deal with the roller coaster of restrictions.
“One of the most frustrating parts as a business owner is that the state government took it [control ] out of the hands of the people,” she said. “It was ripped right out of hands.”
Bettera said she wished that the state had worked more closely with individual business owners.
Running a fitness center, Bettera felt a bit left out from support as well.
“I saw a lot of support for restaurants, but I didn’t see the same support [for fitness centers/gyms],” she said. “We were kind of an after-thought.”
Bettera says she was grateful to receive some help including rent relief from her landlord and two small grants — one from the Small Business Association and another from the chamber. She says that this help did go towards about three months of rent payments, but did not include overhead.
While opening at 10% is not financially viable for Bettera, she said that adaptation and rethinking operations has helped them move forward.
“In the beginning it was really rough, but now it is more streamlined,” she said.
When she was forced to close the doors of the studio, she transitioned to an online platform where she says she taught several Zoom classes in addition to teaching the other teachers how to give classes online.
She said the online classes were really popular in the beginning of shutting down with 50 people attending an online class, but the “novelty” soon wore off.
Now, it’s about 50/50 with people wanting to exercise virtually. While she was allowed to resume teaching in person, she set up an on-demand system, where online classes can be accessed at any time.
“This is my baby,” she said. “It’s not just working out, it’s community, connection and mental health.”
Bettera says she hopes that people can refocus towards health and wellness after the pandemic came with unhealthy lifestyle and eating habits.
Bettera says that since more fear is starting to subside, she has had more people interested in signing up for classes since her reopening.
“Let’s get back on track with health wellness,” she said. Bettera says the process, despite difficult challenges, has a silver lining and she was able to adapt and even improve.
“We came out on the other side stronger and I am really proud of what we have accomplished,” she said. “It’s moving in the right direction and it’s encouraging to see the numbers (COVID-19 cases] go down.”
Director of Rehabilitation and Performance Alan Barichievich said he also had to adapt operations of Barton Performance by creating virtual classes and moving them outside when possible.
“Although capacity is still down, we are seeing it slowly return closer to pre-pandemic numbers, but we are not quite there yet,” Barichievich said. “We are fortunate to be part of the bigger health system at Barton where there is strong support for the Barton Performance service line given the scientific evidence that fitness and performance are a significant part of a person’s overall health and well-being.”
While under a different realm, Angela Zajic also has a similar positive outlook on the challenges she faced during the pandemic.
Zajic owns Rah Hair Studio located at the Y in South Lake Tahoe.
“It was just crazy, the first shutdown was so hard,” said Zajic. “It was really tough to navigate.”
She explained it was really difficult for her stylists as many have families at home to support.
Zajic even set up a resource for counseling for her staff. The salon reopened on June 1 and Zajic said that when they did, they were absolutely slammed even after a majority of weddings were canceled, which makes a big portion of the business.
Zajic and her husband implemented several safety procedures including barriers between chairs, QR codes to log sanitation procedures and even participated in the Test Well program where each stylist is tested every Friday. Zajic said they also changed procedure to only seeing one client at a time.
Zajic and the stylists were blindsided in December when they had to close the doors once again.
“It was crushing to close in December,” she said.
December is usually one of their busiest times and the stylists had just got booked for Christmas. Zajic said it was hard for stylists to see their clients going just down the road to get their hair done in Nevada, where there are less restrictions.
The closure forced the team to get creative. The studio created baskets that they hand delivered around the holidays. The baskets included hand painted cards and hair care products.
Zajic said that overcoming these struggles only made the team closer and stronger.
After leaving the stay at home order at the end of January, the county was suddenly open again.
“There was no warning,” she said. “Every stylist’s phone was blowing up and had to get extra help from the front desk.”
After reopening in January, the studio got booked quickly by clients and weddings for the summer.
“We have been strict and it has worked,” she said. “We will mask up until the cows come home.”
While they are open for business, she is still looking forward to being able to offer clients a beverage and also allowing parents to be there during their kids haircuts again in the future.
“Everyone is in a lot better spirits and are happy to be able to come in,” she said.
Zajic says she is focusing on all the positives that have come from the tough situation and is looking forward to a busy summer.