Phoenix Health & Fitness is one of many local businesses that is relieved to be back open this week following the province's move into Step 3 of the Ontario government’s re-opening plan.
“I am ecstatic, and my clients are too,” said Susie Thisdelle, who has owned and operated the Orillia fitness centre since 1997.
“I’m receiving texts and phone calls from people looking to reserve a space in the classes. Everybody is really eager and coming off of having cabin fever.”
When a stay-at-home order closed Phoenix Health & Fitness over three months ago, Thisdelle wasn’t sure how she was going to keep her business alive.
“I started making exercise videos and sending them out to clients, and I lent out equipment so they could follow along at home,” she explained.
“People were saying they really needed to get back to the gym, they were gaining weight, feeling sore, feeling tired, they were missing all the benefits of physical activity.”
The online format and exercising from home wasn’t something that worked for everyone, Thisdelle explains.
“Anybody can have fancy fitness equipment, but unless you know how to use it and apply it to your body then it’s useless. So, people need the education, the training, and the motivation that I can provide in-person,” she said.
While Thisdelle’s clients struggled with their physical and mental health during the lockdown, Phoenix Health & Fitness was also beginning to struggle.
“I utilized the commercial rent reduction program which helped a lot, but as of Sept. 1, it was no longer available, and my landlord wasn’t able to offer me any discounts. So, when we went into another lockdown this past spring, I was left without any way to pay my rent,” Thisdelle said.
Thisdelle kept her business alive by using her nursing diploma to offer therapeutic one-on-one sessions, but it was far from a profitable business. After months of searching, Thisdelle came across a new home for her business in the lower level of 33 Mississaga St., E.
“It is literally about a quarter of the expense of what I was paying for the Colborne Street location,” said Thisdelle.
The 1,800-square-foot facility hadn’t been used in quite some time, however, Thisdelle freshly painted the new home of her business, steam cleaned the carpet, and laid down new flooring in the large fitness studio area.
“We gave it a total facelift with some elbow grease, and we tried to find deals on supplies, so I’ll be able to continue the business,” Thisdelle explained.
While the move was best for business, it was also mentally and physically taxing on Thisdelle, her family and her friends.
“It was extremely difficult. My husband and a couple of really good friends sweated it out to move the heavy equipment such as cardio machines and free weights. In my industry nothing is light, but I’m lucky I have a good support team around me,” she said.
When the province moved into Step 3 of re-opening on Friday, Thisdelle had to race against the clock to get her business open for the new week.
“I thought I had until the last week of July to set up, but I had to hustle to make sure everything is in place to start my groups today. I’m really happy to be back to business but I’m also feeling the pressure of last-minute,” she said.
While it will take some time for Thisdelle and her business to get settled, her clients are already more than happy to be back at Phoenix Health & Fitness, and they seem to enjoy the new location.
“My clients have been saying that they think it’s a much better spot and a much better location. I’m hoping it’s a good move and the last one before I’m genuinely ready to retire,” she said.
For Thisdelle, being located in the heart of downtown Orillia and grouped with many other small locally-owned businesses who struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic brings her gratitude.
“It’s pretty cool, I’ve enjoyed taking breaks and walking downtown. I love stopping in to get something to eat at Eclectic Cafè, and I love checking out how creative all our local businesses have been during the pandemic,” she said.
“I may be biased but I think there is a really good backbone of self-employed entrepreneur types here in Orillia and they should be really proud of themselves for surviving this pandemic," she said. "I know there was a point when I turned to my husband and said, ‘maybe I should use COVID as an excuse to just pack it in because this is really stressful’… it was tough.”
Thisdelle says that because of the pandemic and feeling the effects of a business owner firsthand, she will only be supporting and shopping local from now on.
“I will absolutely, positively only shop on the main street and support small businesses in Orillia. There will be no more big box stores for me,” she said.