Orange County Studio “Rows with It” Safely during COVID-19 Pandemic: “It was the lifeline we needed,” says Owner
Like many small businesses, a lot of hard work had gone into launching Orange County indoor rowing studio Live2Row. The Ocoee-based fitness enterprise opened five years ago, and co-owners Justin Knust and Stephen Pryor were determined to keep up the sweat equity they had put in their business.
However in March of this year, Live2Row had to drastically change its direction. Like many small businesses, they were forced to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “My primary concern was ‘how we are going to pay our rent?’” said Knust. “Our landlord helped us in the short term, but we were worried about how we were going to meet financial gaps in the coming months.”
Live2Row was closed for nearly sixty days due to COVID-19 restrictions, prompting Knust to look for financial assistance programs being offered by the State and the County.
In June, Knust applied for Orange County’s CARES for Small Business Grant Program. The program, which Knust discovered through the County’s social media channels, gives small businesses $10,000 in grant money to help with employee wages, vendor bills and rent.
“When I saw the program the County rolled out, it seemed to target small businesses like ours that had really slipped through the cracks in not being able to access federal funds,” said Knust. “Having that grant helped make sure the lights stayed on and that our rent was paid. It was the lifeline we needed.”
Staying Open Safely
Live2Row was also one of thousands of local businesses to acquire free personal protective equipment (PPE) through the PPE for Small Biz in Orange County Initiative. So far, the PPE Initiative has provided more than five million masks and a half million bottles of hand sanitizer to establishments in the County.
“It was a weight off of our shoulders” said Knust. “With other expenses piling up while the gym was closed, that was one thing we knew we were not going to have to worry about.”
With PPE provided by the County, the Live2Row owners prepared to safely reopen their studio. To comply with the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, the gym reduced the number of rowing machines in its studio from 13 to eight, to keep clients more than six feet apart while they were exercising.
Knust then rented the unused rowing machines to existing customers, and began offering virtual classes to enroll new clients from other states until the studio could resume normal operations.
“The studio is laid out so that it minimizes exposure,” said Knust. “The safety, well-being and health of our clients has always been our number-one priority.”
With the new safety protocols in place, Live2Row partially reopened in May. In addition to the new social distancing rules, instructors wear masks, and clients are encouraged to wear masks until they are on their rowing machines. Machines are cleaned thoroughly between uses, and clients are responsible for wiping down their own machines immediately after they finish exercising.
“Although we are in uncertain times right now, we have to move forward,” added Knust. “Because of the programs that the County has offered small businesses like mine, we can begin adjusting to our ‘new normal’ and continue rowing on strong.”
The dedicated members of Live2Row have collectively rowed more than 300 million meters in the last five years. That is the equivalent of rowing around the world six times—an “oarsome” feat!
For more information about Live2Row, visit: https://www.live2rowstudios.com.
To learn more Orange County’s CARES Program for Small Businesses, visit www.ocfl.net/OrangeCares.