Exactly one year ago, on March 16, 2020, Body & Pole shut its doors, not knowing when – or if – we would ever re-open. It was a super scary, uncertain time – not just in NYC, but all around the world. After many months of pivoting the business and planning for what an eventual re-open amidst a global pandemic would look like, we were fortunate to be able to open our doors this past September. While we still have a ways to go before we can open at full capacity (get your vaccines!), we wouldn’t be where we are now without the fearless leadership of our co-founder and Owner, Kyra Johannesen, who responded with calm focus and stealth-like decision making. Below, she shares what it was like navigating uncharted territory in unprecedented times, as a small business owner and parent.
How did you handle all this change?
When we got word that we were going to shut down, something inside me just clicked, and I snapped into survival mode and prepared my internal team to expect to be closed until mid-July. My first step was to take care of my employees. On March 17th, we let 40 employees go and that was horrible, it was so stressful on my management team, my trainers, and my family. I wanted to do anything I could to take care of them but I knew I couldn’t pay. Fortunately, we were able to give a little severance to everyone, because at that time, we had no idea what unemployment was going to look like, and this was way before any talk of PPP. It was very up in the air and scary but it was also just like, “ok what do we do right now?”. You can get through financial lows but NYC was a scary place and I was scared for people to get sick and no longer be with us. So many people were losing friends and family members to the virus — it was happening all around us with our staff and company partners, and it was very real and very scary. The most important thing was to keep everyone calm and take care of them, so they could make smart choices and stay healthy.
What else was going on in your life this year?
It was the weirdest time in my life and I was six months pregnant with Evelyn, my second child. I had just bought a house outside the city, and wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to keep it. But that was so secondary to me – everything was about the people at BP. Evie was born July 1, and I was literally having calls from the labor and delivery room. I was lucky to have a very fast delivery. It was crazy to wear a mask the entire time and thankfully they were allowing partners in the room, because you need your partner in that room to advocate for you!
What did you all do at B&P to prepare?
By July, the infection rates had come down, and things felt a little less scary than they did in March, but there was still no word about when we could expect to reopen. We knew masks were very much needed and we had prepared since March for what a reopening might look like — we invested in making our space as safe as possible, which included redoing our bathrooms, adding extra hand-washing stations, and stocking up on cleaning supplies and air purifiers. We re-constructed a socially-distant class concept and came up with a handless spotting technique. Our team was ready but the state just wouldn’t open us up. And the longer we stayed closed the more it felt like we weren’t going to make it. We had to completely shift how we presented our classes so that when gyms were given the green light, we could open with them. Things became a little bleaker in August but finally in September we were able to reopen at 33% capacity, and we didn’t know if people were going to come back but they did! And we’re really fortunate that they did but we have to get to a fuller capacity soon, so the more people that are eligible to vaccinate, I hope they do so.
What is your day-to-day like?
My days are filled with poopy diapers and feeding children in between meetings and emails and trying to get outside and take a hike for some fresh air. And some nights I’m up every two hours because my children don’t sleep through the night, and then it’s morning and it starts all over again, but don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of joy there too! It taught me how to multitask – it’s really hard when your family needs you and your baby is breastfeeding and you’re having intimate calls with your HR. Because being a mom is 24/7 and owning a studio is 24/7 and you have to know which needs you right now – you get really good at knowing what urgent means. It’s all about really understanding what is urgent and what is most important. I’ve become very logical and thinking, “what’s in danger right now?” and handling one situation at a time and just surviving this. I’ve not cried about any of this until my parents got their vaccine on my birthday, and I finally just cried tears of relief.
How do you feel about the future?
We’ve been able to survive this but it has been just like pushing the ball up the mountain everyday for the past year. I learned a lot about the people around me and who I am but the truth is, it’s been exhausting and there’ve been lots of moments of, ”is this worth it?” And the answer is yes. The studio has become so important to so many people that it’s not allowed to fail. It’s a safe haven for so many so failure is just never an option, it’s never been an option for me. But in reality I’m tired. I have a mortgage and a family and 38 people who rely on us for a paycheck. There’s something my dad always said, “If you have a Plan B, you’ll go to Plan B. Well, I never had a Plan B. I built BP with Lian and my team and we never had a Plan B. Covid just showcased that you’re never allowed to have a Plan B. I had the scary talks with my mentors about moving to online only – but I thought, “we’re going to get through this”. It hasn’t been easy on anybody. The studio has to survive this and it’s going to. And I wanted to teach my children that you don’t give up – it’s not all about you, like you matter, but everyone else matters to, and you need to pay attention. That’s what Henry, my first child, understands – sometimes a meeting is more important than playing with him – and he’s learned patience. I think there’s lessons here that are good and there’s a lot of pain and trauma that people are going to have to work through but hopefully they turn it into a positive. I’ve learned that everything can change on a whim and when there’s turbulence, address it and know that it will pass. We are going to be able to reopen and Evie will sleep through the night.
What do you miss most?
I try to lead with kindness, empathy and also perseverance, but sometimes those don’t all happen – they don’t show up for you everyday. I’ve had lots of students reach out to me and check in on me and I feel very fortunate and lucky that I get to have the life I have. I’m proud of it and my team and my family, but I would like a little more sunshine and it would be nice to not worry about people’s health and finance soon. As a small business owner you worry about it all the time but this is the first time that you had to maneuver and make really smart choices and listen to your team and your intuition. If you start to look at the whole, it’s too much – you have to go day by day, moment by moment, but celebrate each moment as well — hitting a sales number, or a student writing a heartfelt post, or a trainer having their own life celebration, you can’t just take care of the problems, you have to look up and celebrate people as you’re doing it. I hope I did that, and I want to do that more. We had a lot of community members get married and have babies – there was a lot of joy this year, but not being able to hug people and be in the space has been very hard. Pre-Covid, I was there all the time and teaching – not being able to connect in that same way with students and the team has been hard. When I taught it always reminded me of why I worked so hard for the other aspects that were not so enjoyable. You see your students move and learn and they teach you so much. And I miss that and I want to go sit on the couch and chat with everyone at the studio. And I miss dancing. I have always loved dancing because every part of yourself is fully extended in movement, usually with others, and that makes you feel so connected and so alive. It’s also a way to celebrate and mourn and feel joy – it’s therapeutic without talking and it’s for you and it’s your own special coping mechanism. That’s what’s beautiful about the studio – you can do that everyday. You can go and be with others safely and that’s important. It was important to me to have that there for people because there weren’t many places for people to go and move their bodies and be socially distant and take a break from all of this, that weren’t high risk. Being without that has taken a toll, but I hold it – BP has been around since December 2009 and just one year can’t take back the rest of those years. It’s just a portion of time. That’s part of the hope – that I’ll be able to explore that side of myself again in the classroom setting. That will be healing.