‘It’s really scary’: DC yoga studio says mask mandate could slow business

Many small businesses across DC are reopening with cautious optimism, despite concerns about the national spike in COVID-19 cases.

But now, with a new mask mandate reinstituted by Mayor Muriel Bowser in effect, many small businesses in the region said they’re worried about the prolonged financial impact of asking patrons to wear masks indoors.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s decision to reinstate mask mandates came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed mask guidelines for all Americans.

Some small businesses, like the Flow Yoga Center on 14th Street in Northwest, said they’re already seeing the impact of the reinstituted mask mandate.

“Our sign-ups got cut down in half as soon as that happened,” Debra Mishalove, founder and creative director of Flow Yoga Center, told WTOP.

The change in mask guidance took Mishalove by surprise. She said while she’s supportive of getting D.C. — and the country — back on track, she’s still worried about her studio’s bottom line.

“I’ve seen so many businesses close — small and large gyms, fitness studios, boutique studios — and everyone’s struggling so much,” she said.

As a family business, Mishalove said she’s worried about meeting her financial obligations if business slows due to the mask mandate.

“It’s really scary,” she said. “We’ve been tapping into our savings and there’s months that we couldn’t pay our rent.”

While Flow Yoga Center received PPP loans, it wasn’t enough to keep the studio current on rent payments during the pandemic.

“I think we had like three months or something that [the landlord] let us put on to the end of the contract,” Mishalove said. “We’re on the hook for it. I’m anticipating that’s going to continue.”

During the pandemic lockdowns, small business looking for financial aid to stay afloat were able to borrow money from the Small Business Administration through participating community financial institutions.

Many nonprofits, self-employed people and independent contractors benefited from PPP loans, but many businesses felt the sting of lockdown anyway.

“I’m hoping there’s a recognition, recognition of us, and that maybe there’ll be some programs to help us, you know, get through this again,” she said.

Mishalove said she isn’t waiting for the next PPP loan to save her business, and is instead taking a proactive approach during any potential COVID-19 spikes.

Flow Yoga Center is keeping people safe by imposing stricter regulations, like asking attending clients to show proof of vaccination.

“So we have a process in the studio, we asked for their ID and their [vaccination] card,” she said. “Then we do something in our software to allow you to register for the classes.”

This was an approach that most Flow Yoga Center members chose when surveyed.

Mishalove said they’re also keeping social distancing in place, even though the recent mask mandates didn’t include social distancing requirements.

“I have testimonial after testimonial that fitness facilities have been what has gotten people through this pandemic so far, so we want to keep being able to offer that to the community,” she said. “But at this point, I’m not sure how much longer we will last.”

Nardos Mesmer

Nardos G. Mesmer is an Associate Producer with WTOP News. She works with producers, anchors, writers and reporters to develop content for web and air. She ensures content is factually accurate, clear and concise. She also works on technical editing of sound and revisions for airing of final audio.

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