NEWARK, NJ — When Gov. Phil Murphy closed all non-essential businesses in the state on March 16 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, no one knew what it would lead to, or how long it would last.

“At first when we closed, the word on the street was you have to close up for two weeks and we’ll be back up and running by April 1,” says Tanya Serrano, owner of CKO Kickboxing in
Newark. “That changed very quickly.”

Now, it’s nearly three months later, and CKO’s Halsey Street doors remain closed. Once it became clear things weren’t opening up anytime soon, the Newark branch of the kickboxing franchise, which Serrano opened in September 2018, froze all of its memberships. CKO has been offering free virtual classes to the public. For Serrano, this was a no-brainer decision despite the cost. “The instructors that are doing the live classes, they're paid, because they have families too.”

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CKO in Newark has seven staff members in total, including Serrano. Though due to the pandemic, only three instructors are currently running the virtual classes via Zoom video calls five days a week. Starting next week, they’ll do seven. Serrano pays them out of her own pocket.

On April 27, the Small Business Association announced they would begin accepting applications for the second round of small business loans as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. The administration of the PPP has been criticized as significant loopholes have allowed for larger businesses to be eligible for relief. The first round of PPP loans, totaling $349 billion, ran out in less than three weeks. Serrano has applied and is and is waiting to hear back for the second disbursement of relief. She has also filed for unemployment.

“I’m waiting for a lot of things. All the grants I applied for, any type of assistance. ‘OK, where do we stand?’”, she asks.

But even if she is selected for a loan it likely won’t cover costs. Serrano’s instructors are considered independent contractors, thus they aren’t officially on CKO’s payroll. Any relief she receives won’t be enough to cover employees, and she’ll have to continue to pay out of pocket.

With the number of new COVID-19 cases in the state on the decline, Gov. Murphy has given the OK to begin phase two of New Jersey’s reopening plan on June 15. Although phase two of the plan does include reopening includes fitness centers, it is unclear how soon they will be given the green light.

In one of the governor’s recent COVID-19 daily briefings, he expressed that he plans to open gyms soon.  “We're going to come back to you with a specific date soon on gyms and health clubs,” the governor said on June 1.

When that day comes, Serrano will be ready for whatever the challenges may be. “We will give members the option to work out from home even after we reopen. Virtual fitness is here to stay and we have to stay on top of our game to succeed.”