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Uneven COVID-19 responses cause frustration for small businesses hanging on

NYC Yoga
Posted at 12:05 PM, Apr 16, 2021

We could all use a moment to take the stress and exhale. Inside Karen Torrone’s Staten Island yoga studio, 5 Boro Power Yoga, that’s happening for the first time in a while.

Torrone knows exactly how long she couldn't hold classes in person.

“370 days," she said.

Yoga is a practice of perseverance.

“I love that it gives people an opportunity to be OK with themselves," the instructor said.

To understand its power is to grasp what brought Torrone to it.

“Back in ‘98, my mom and her boyfriend were murdered here on Staten Island," she recalled. “Just seeing what I had to be strong for, like my grandparents, who had to bury their daughter, and I have younger siblings, there was a lot of pain a lot of anger like it isn’t fair kind of stuff.”

She says through yoga, she found healing.

“All the pain and sadness of what I used to carry just started to burn away," she said.

It’s what drove her to open this studio a decade ago, and this year, fight to reopen it.

"It just kind of felt like we were forgotten," she said of being a fitness studio owner in New York City in the pandemic.

New York is a prime example of how complicated and confusing COVID-19 responses can be.

While New York City allowed gyms to reopen in September, Mayor Bill de Blasio said indoor classes were still too dangerous.

Yet, take a short drive outside the city, even still in the state of New York, the policy was different, all while Torrone had to remain closed.

"Up on Staten Island here, we’re surrounded. We have three bridges leading into New Jersey and right over bridges in New Jersey yoga studios were open, so it was in my mind should we just open in New Jersey?” Torrone said.

Situations like this have played out for small businesses across the country.

Owners of gyms and restaurants were forced to keep their shops dark as the same types of businesses could open months earlier in states like Texas and Florida.

“The saddest thing like, after years and years of paying taxes, years, and years of being involved in the community, and being told, ‘Oh no, it’s not safe for you to open. Oh no, we don’t think you’re ready to open,’ and not even giving us the chance," Torrone said.

She joined a coalition of New York City fitness studio owners in suing the mayor and governor to reopen, and in March, the governor gave the OK.

For now, classes can only be a third full, but Torrone’s clients say they're good with that.

“I’m so happy to be back," said Stephanie Mininni.

“I really can’t put words to how I feel right now," client Patti Palacino said.

Palacino says she's had to find ways to practice yoga away from the studio throughout the pandemic. It's her outlet and doesn't hide where she would be without it.

"I would be a raving, freaking, lunatic," she exclaimed.

As this pandemic continues, Torrone says it's important that we all find a way to take that moment to exhale like people can inside her studio again.

“To take everything else in their life on the shelf and connect to their spirit and their heart and just take care of themselves," she said.