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When virus hit, new owners of 'hot' Pilates studio got moving

Chrissi Forde, Samantha Harris and Arielle Geller, co-owners

Owners at Hot Pilates Secret in Wantagh have been hit hard by the pandemic, but have been able to stay afloat with new business ideas and help from their dedicated customers.  Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

There was a short honeymoon phase for new entrepreneurs Arielle Geller, Samantha Harris and Chrissi Forde after they bought Hot Pilates Secret in Wantagh last January.

They had owned the 15-year-old business only a couple of months and were starting to talk about renovating and rebranding it as Sacred Space NY when COVID hit.

Once that happened, "it was a quick pivot on how to still support our community," says Geller, 30, who along with her partners had been teaching at the studio for years before purchasing the business from the daughter of late owner/founder Beth Young.

Upon having to close the studio on March 17 due to the mandated shutdown, they shifted immediately to live virtual classes, which in itself came with challenges, considering the studio offered hot Pilates and hot yoga classes. Both are low-impact, high-intensity workouts done in a 90-degree-plus environment to aid with muscle flexibility.

They quickly sent out information to members telling them how they can create that environment — or close to it — in their own homes.

"We became very resourceful," said Harris, 52, noting the studio reopened Sept. 2 and still has about 10 percent of its 100-plus members taking classes online.

An additional 60% of members have come back in person, according to Geller, and about 20% have put their memberships on hold because of COVID.

Newsday spoke to Geller, Harris and Forde about navigating the pandemic. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Why did you all decide to go from teaching to buying the business?

Harris: We were all looking to grow and evolve. It just came up organically and the three of us were friends and were excited to work together and knew we could give it a lot of love.

What plans did you have for the business pre-pandemic?

Forde: In February, we started to talk about renovations and rebranding the name to Sacred Space NY. We like to think we create a sacred space for members. [During the shutdown they renovated, including upgrading the air filtration system, and have begun rebranding starting with merchandise and the website.]

What’s behind the name change to Sacred Space?

Geller: It’s not just Pilates. Yoga’s a big part of what we do.

How did you help customers recreate the hot Pilates/hot yoga experience at home?

Harris: We gave them an itemized list on Amazon of either fitness equipment, space heaters, Pilates rings, dumbbells, resistance bands or anything they could use that could create the environment.

Did you have to get creative since workout supplies were in high demand?

Harris: We did some workouts with hand towels [for resistance], paper plates used as slides on their feet on the floor. We used light weights for Pilates and we added strength classes with heavier weights using dumbbells and even laundry detergent [containers].

As members returned in person, did you change anything in the studio to accommodate wearing masks in the heat?

Geller: We didn’t turn the heat on for about a month, and then we lowered it from 105 degrees to around 95.

Harris: It’s infrared heat. So it’s a different feeling than a blast of forced hot air.

How did you keep virtual members engaged?

Harris: We did things like a watercolor painting class on Zoom. We did a series of classes for one week to empower them with goal and vision setting and self-care practices. [This month, the fitness studio plans to launch an on-demand platform of prerecorded classes that can be taken anytime.]

What safety measures are you taking?

Geller: Masks, distancing and temperature checks. We’re only utilizing half the space to limit the surface and contact area being touched. ... Around April, we also joined New York Fitness Coalition. They really helped drive a movement to open fitness facilities and keep them open. They had reopening procedures we followed based on CDC guidelines.

If you knew COVID was coming would you still have bought the business?

Forde: Yes. It connected us as partners and strengthened us as entrepreneurs.

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