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Metro Phoenix yoga studio closes doors in wake of COVID-19 pandemic

(Facebook Photo/Yoga Onyx)

This story is part of KTAR News’ “Pandemic in Arizona: One Year In” special report on 92.3 FM, online and our app.

PHOENIX — Prior to March of last year, it was rare to see the floor at Yoga Onyx.

The pale, wood surface was hard to find under overlapping, multi-colored yoga mats in packed classes.

Then, the pandemic hit.

On March 19, 2020, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order to close down dine-in restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms.

“It happened quickly,” Jamie Swirtz, Yoga Onyx’s owner, recalled. “The next day, we canceled classes and from that period on it was a long time of really having no classes.”

From March until the end of May, Swirtz worked to get Onyx classes online.

“We learned how to do Zoom classes, YouTube classes, live stream classes,” he said. “It was a lot of work not having the equipment or experience to try and put it out.”

The market for online workouts quickly became oversaturated, which meant less students.

“The amount of students that were paying for those classes was significantly off, call it 10% compared to the students that were taking in-person classes and paying for those,” Swirtz said.

And while he was saving money on lights and heat while classes were online, rent — Swirtz’s biggest expense — became harder to cover.

By June, with gyms able to reopen, it seemed like there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for Onyx.

“Then there was a second closure and it was really difficult to navigate,” Swirtz remembered. “So it was probably like 6 months, about half the year, there was almost nothing going on.”

Following the second shutdown, Swirtz’s small studio became a shadow of its former self.

Classes, which once saw 25 to 30 students in class, were now capped at just 10 people in the studio.

The once-covered floors became glaringly obvious in classes, with duct tape marking up the studio in order to remind students to stay properly spaced.

“It made it really, really hard,” Swirtz said. “It’s upsetting and I just didn’t see it coming at all.”

Despite applying for federal loans to help, Swirtz emphasized many of the federal programs were designed to keep people employed, not necessarily to keep businesses open.

As a small studio, he had several teachers but most of them taught less than 2 classes a week, meaning they worked as independent contractors, not employees.

So, Swirtz raised prices and worked to maximize attendance on smaller classes.

“With the increase, students were fine with it,” he explained. “If you [compare] 25 students at the [original] price those numbers are significantly better, which ultimately leads to more memberships, more classes, but we we’re quite able to get there.”

On February 21, nearly a year after the pandemic began, Yoga Onyx held its last class.

Swirtz, his students and teachers grieved the loss of their studio. He said there was a silver lining to a year where people were forced to take a look at their health.

“Maybe that’s one thing that’s on the bright side, is that yoga has spread to even more people,” he said. “When it is comfortable to come back to a physical space, you’re going to have a larger population of people that are willing to practice yoga.”

And while it made more sense to close Yoga Onyx for now, Swirtz said he’s not opposed to opening another studio in the future.

“So many of our teachers, students and myself went into this as newbies or beginners and three years later we’ve grown and learned so much,” he said. “We’re all going to continue you on… and when the time is right, if it is, I think we can all come together and create something.”

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