Closing West Seattle-how did we get here?
As a small business owner, I feel it is important to share our point of view, as I feel that our struggles are quite overlooked in this tech-heavy environment.
I will make it short and sweet because nobody likes to read a long sad story. And honestly, as hard as these years were, and as much as the pain is deep, these years also offered deep, meaningful friendships, connections that mean more than words, and pure joy. But yes, it also was fatiguing and demanding.
Bullet points are great organizers for thoughts, and since we all know the details from following the news, I feel that we understand each other from half sentences.
Large corporations started producing Online replacements; they can provide cheaper memberships because they don’t have a brick-and-mortar overhead and play in large numbers. They can drive national advertisements and gain millions of users, thus being able to offer services at a much lower price.
Teachers started offering free classes on social media – which, from one perspective, is nice; from another, it kills their old brick-and-mortar workplaces.
Teachers also took this as an opportunity to change, branch out, and work independently. The longer covid went on, the more they felt they had to make a living independently of the studios. A totally normal reaction to circumstances, but unfortunately, with added harm to studios.
The fitness industry does not have a lobby representation; thus, unlike the restaurant industry did not receive large sums in grants.
Seattle offered some small grants, not nearly enough to make a difference. With a monthly overhead of $15,000/month, receiving a total of $9000 in 2020 was nice but not helpful. And in 2021, many of the small grants were focused on minority-owned businesses. Though I am female and an immigrant from a small country, and English is my second language, I did not qualify as a minority.
Then came 2021 and the staffing issues. Half our staff got stuck on the other side of the bridge. Many teachers moved out of Seattle and Washington State altogether. I tried and tried to hire new teachers in West Seattle, but between the bridge and the fear of yet another new variant kept new teachers home. Many of our teachers who wanted to stay on staff simply could never find time to teach; between kids with constantly changing school systems and working more hours, there was simply less time for yoga. Astonishingly, I started with 28 teachers in 2019, and I was left with 3-4 regularly on schedule by 2022.
At this point, like all small businesses, I was 2 years into bleeding capital. So, of course, capitalism is capitalism; one person's struggle is an opportunity for someone new with a fresh budget. Teachers and franchises took the opportunity and started opening new businesses. That is just the unfortunate reality of business, but the hardest one for the heart, especially because I viewed yoga as not just a business but our community and family; it was hard watching it fall apart. And yes, all this caused further staff erosion.
I guess it is natural; we all have dreams, and sometimes we don't dream the same dream. Sometimes we think we are on the same team, but that can also be an illusion. I always wanted to keep the yoga studio as classical yoga, a place for mindful, intellectually stimulating, traditional yoga. This is not everyone's dream. It is also not the easiest way to make a living. It is more popular to offer a good workout in a hip-fun modern environment, but that is not why I went into yoga. Some changes I did not want to make.
Yes, I could have rallied and found new teachers to cover classes, but honestly, I was done. Ten years is a long time to support and love a teaching team, just to watch it fall apart. It is very hard on the heart. It was time for me to move on and focus on Issaquah, where I felt I had a budding new community that was excited to teach mindfulness-based yoga.
Then came the homeless problem in West Seattle; we dealt with harassment and daily defecation on the window, back, and front door. That really just sealed the deal.
So I hope you understand it was a tough and heartbreaking decision, one I wish I did not have to make. West Seattle has been my second home. Spira offered not just fitness but a refuge for the heart. Over the 11 years, more than 300 students participated in Spira's 200-hours Mindfulness and Yoga Journey; we had over 10,000 students cross our doors. Over 9 Thanksgivings, the Spira community raised over $50,000 for various causes, from helping fellow yogis through illness and injury to helping a neighbor's business get back on its feet after a death in the family, to the Red Cross. The Spira Community made a difference in the universe; that is worthwhile to remember and celebrate.
Three couples found love and marriage; many found a healing space while battling challenges in life, from infertility to divorce, from challenges of family life to challenges in the work environment.
Spira has been "a church" for many of you; those are not my words. I would never dare to use the word "church" if it would not be from my student's mouths. Over the 11 years, I heard it repeatedly: "Spira is our church."
So I am sorry that I have to do this; it is shatteringly painful. But Spira will go on; you can find me online and in Issaquah. I will keep offering 200-hrs Mindfulness and Yoga, 40 Days of Introspection, Nutrition classes, and yoga every single day.
Thank you for giving me the gift of teaching; Peace Be With You, Namaste
Dora - owner, teacher, amateur philosopher :-)