Facing a second shutdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in August, Wendy Klein, owner of Nandi Yoga in San Mateo, knew she had to find creative ways to stay in business.

Klein did offer online classes at that point, but said an online-only model was not sustainable for her small business.

“It has to be some combination of in-person and online,” she said. “Once you go online completely you’re competing with all these bigger companies.”

Just one block away, Daniel Brasse, owner of Aikido by the Bay — named after the Japanese martial art that he teaches — was in a similar boat.

So the two teamed up to create an outdoor studio in a parking lot adjacent to Brasse’s business. Since early August, both instructors have been conducting in-person and socially distant classes in the shared space that are also live streamed to clients who prefer to stay home.

“We clicked right away and both wanted the same thing, which is to keep our businesses alive in this challenging time and to keep serving the community,” Brasse said. “Without the parking lot, I doubt if the dojo would’ve survived.”

Brasse and Klein split the substantial cost of creating the al fresco studio, which is complete with yoga and tatami mats, canopies, WiFi and video equipment to reach the remote clients.

“It’s not as beautiful as the indoor spaces, but it’s working well,” Klein said. “People miss these in-person classes and the ability to bring them back safely outside is a really exciting development. The only thing that isn’t great is the train is pretty loud when it goes by.”

Clients before classes are asked about possible symptoms and exposure to anyone infected with COVID-19. During classes, 8-foot social distancing is enforced and masks are optional per county guidelines. Hand sanitizer is offered, an indoor restroom is accessible to one person at a time and the mats are sanitized after every session.

“Cleaning the mats between usage is where the expense has gone up, but it’s the right thing to do,” Klein said.

With social distancing, Klein can accommodate about 20 people per class outside. Pre-pandemic, she was teaching 50 at a time.

Brasse’s classes pre-pandemic were as large as 24 students and he now only teaches about half as many at a time.

“The numbers are getting better, but it’s still a fraction of what we had before,” Klein said.

The business owners worked out a schedule that works for both of them and they’re also increasingly offering mutual classes.

“Hearing their breathing and commands and music actually complements what we do,” Brasse said. “It helps with focus.”

Brasse teaches his classes with a remote microphone and AV equipment on wheels to simultaneously reach clients at home.  

Each of Klein’s outdoor classes are also offered on Zoom for remote clients. She said the transition has been challenging.

“It’s been incredibly hard going on Zoom,” she said. “Before [the pandemic] I’d walk around doing hands-on assists and making decisions in real time based on what people are doing. When it’s virtual you can’t support [students] in the same way.”

The outdoor setup, while a success thus far, is weather dependent. Klein said especially hot days will shut down classes and the rainy season is also looming.

“If we’re in this position where we’re trying to hold outdoor classes in December and January and it’s raining out then we’re done,” she said.

“But if by chance this doesn’t work it’s not out of lack of effort or of a great service,” she continued. “It’ll just be one of those unfortunate side effects of trying to knock down a pandemic we haven’t seen in 100 years.”

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