Gym owner: ‘How do you operate your business at 25%?’

Jen and Marcus Wilson are opening True Grit Society
Jen and Marcus Wilson

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

Interviews are edited for length and clarity.

Jen Wilson, co-owner, True Grit Society gym

It’s been a rough couple weeks, I gotta tell you. It’s been crazy. We’ve seen other people gearing up and running workouts outside, and we’re kind of sitting here confused about what we’re supposed to be doing or what’s allowed. It’s so inconsistent, the information we get, that it’s hard to know what’s going on. Do you do the right thing you know you are supposed to be doing or do you do what you think is best for you, your business and your family? 

We’re not rule breakers, and we want to keep our community safe. We’re very black and white, so it’s hard to see through so much gray. Marcus spent the week, literally, calling around — I think a lot of people in county and state offices probably know him by name — trying to find out what’s the rule here. Gov. Walz said gyms are in phase three, but why are we the only ones not running classes? He finally heard from the office of Economic Development. Someone said, “Yes, you can have outdoor workouts but with restrictions.” The restrictions are basically you can’t have them in your business. People can’t walk up our stairs to our patio, where we would have had classes. We could do it in our parking lot or wherever else, but they can’t walk up our stairs. Do other people know that or were they just doing what they wanted? 

It’s so hard to know. He was on the phone for four days straight. It’s one of those things where it was like, “When is anyone going to say anything.” Why did we have to go all out to find out this information? 

It’s just gotten much heavier. I think we’re probably not the only ones debating what to do as a small business. It’s very sobering to have to go through these serious thought scenarios. How do you operate your business at 25%? Someone was saying, “This is what we do as small-business owners,” And I’m like, “Really?” Yes, we grind and problem solve, but that doesn’t mean solve this! 

At some point you hope there’s a downhill movement and you can start coasting a bit on what you’ve done. To know you’re signing up for something that’s going to take years to change, it’s daunting. You start a business knowing you’re going to work hard to keep it up, but no one knows what’s going to happen and you’re only going to be able to operate at a small percentage of what you used to operate at. Is it fair to small business owners to say, “you’re going to have to work really hard for two years or however long it takes to get back, you’re not going to make any money, you’re going to work your asses off — go do it”?

It’s hard to wrap your head around. It’s not like we blame anybody. Some people are angry at Walz and it’s like, he’s just trying to keep people safe. How can you be angry at someone for saying, “I’m putting the safety of people who live in this state first”? It’s just a lot to agree to and you don’t really know what you’re agreeing to in the first place, you just know it’s not going to be easy. 

It’s crazy, I feel like I say that every week, but it’s crazy. 

Someone stole my credit card information about a month ago. They had to give me a new credit card, so I signed up for a service to monitor my credit. I got an alert from Experian saying someone had accessed my credit report. It was the Small Business Administration. 

So the [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] — they’re checking credit, which should have no bearing on if you were affected economically. That really bothered me, because credit should have nothing to do with it. That upsets me. 

Luckily my credit score is good. As minority business owners, I worry that’s perpetuating issues already going on in these minority businesses. Are they going to be able to get help? 

We did start helping out at the Soo Line Community Garden, which has been awesome. We’re helping out one of the plot owners. The owner of our plot is looking to plant some food, and Sachi is studying seeds in school, so we got a seed planter kit. We started sprouting watermelon, cantaloupe, bell pepper, carrots, kale, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs. And I had been thinking, what are we going to do with this when we sprout. And now we’ve filled this plot with so much food. The plan is to give the food to the shelf when it grows. Just having Sachi running around the garden and getting her hands dirty is really good. It makes me happy.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

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