Zhen Ren Chuan 2021
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Upbeat Cycling to close; owner explores underlying factors

A second Arlington fitness business has succumbed to Covid-19. Upbeat Cycling, on Schouler Court, next to Arlington High School, plans to close Sunday, Sept. 12, after four years in business. Black Crow Yoga, in East Arlington since 2010, held its last class Aug. 15, also a pandemic victim.

Jackie Maurer, Upbeat Cycling, 2021

Upbeat's owner, Jackie Maurer, told clients last week that the indoor studio is open for its normal class schedule through that Sunday. Those with membership contracts and renewing monthly packages will be prorated through Sept, 12, and all contracts/ renewals automatically canceled after that. "Those with class series should use those up during this next four weeks. Consistent with all of our class-package terms, we will not be in a position to provide refunds," she wrote.

In addition to details that customers need to know -- more below -- Maurer expressed sadness and had concerned words about what she terms "capital destruction."

"Dismantling the studio is going to break my heart," she told YourArlington.

Asked what she would do next, she wrote: "I can’t focus on me personally until the wind-down [liquidating assets] is completed. Once I can focus on some self care, I’ll try to find employment doing something that involves my various passions — bicycling, fitness, outdoor adventure, working with great people and using my entrepreneurial and business skills.

"I have no plans to open another business, however."

When a crisis like Covid prematurely cuts off the timeline, it ends in capital destruction. The government programs provided some time and space for survival, but they were not designed for a crisis of this duration."

She then focused on an issue that she rarely sees reported by the press -- small-business challenges from Covid resulting in lost capital.

"Entrepreneurs put a lot of capital into starting businesses," using multiple avenues for funding. "Plans rely on creating a business over time that generates revenue, and ultimately profits, to repay that up-front investment.

"When a crisis like Covid prematurely cuts off the timeline, it ends in capital destruction. The government programs provided some time and space for survival, but they were not designed for a crisis of this duration.

"My fear, just as a citizen and a person who follows economics and business, is that the next year or so could be even more catastrophic than last year. Businesses have been weakened. Entrepreneurs, like me, who invested significant personal capital in a business, will not be able to turn around and try something else. I for one will return to being an employee somewhere, earning a paycheck.

"The 'pulling together' and the spirit of 'we’re all in this together' has waned. I think there’s a general malaise of just curling in and waiting. Delta will exacerbate this. Towns like Arlington that react with policies without more carefully analyzing the broader implications of those policies could experience longer term negative economic impacts."

I’m not looking for people to feel sorry for me, and I’m not whining."

Maurer explained, prefacing her remarks: "I’m not looking for people to feel sorry for me, and I’m not whining. I’m a big girl, and I had my 'big-girl pants' on when I started Upbeat.

"I made decisions, and made my mistakes, as all entrepreneurs do. A big issue for Upbeat Cycling is that we were at a fragile point in our business development. We had only opened in January 2018, so when Covid hit, we were at the beginning of our third year.

Upbeat Cycling logo

"The first two years of a business like mine, many told me, are generally not profitable. We had started a more rapid-growth trajectory in 2020, and I was very optimistic about the future. When Covid hit, all that was stopped in its tracks and at an awkward moment in our development. 

"Given the overall situation, I have experienced a lot of frustration with the things that were out of my control. On top of Covid were actions on the part of policy makers -- state and local -- that didn’t make a lot of sense in my opinion, and definitely created avoidable headwinds."

I take Covid seriously and have all along as a business owner responsible for the safety of my staff, our clients and the community. I am not an 'anti-masker,' 'anti-vaxxer' or suspicious of science."

"I take Covid seriously and have all along as a business owner responsible for the safety of my staff, our clients and the community. I am not an 'anti-masker,' 'anti-vaxxer' or suspicious of science. I also believe in common sense and making thoughtful, reasonable decisions, assessing impacts analytically, as well as listening to reason. I also understand that it’s really complicated. I believe in social responsibility and doing what’s right not only for oneself but also for the people with whom we share this world."

Asked to discuss in more detail the town's recent Covid policies, she wrote:

"I think that the Town of Arlington on balance has been more conservative and more ready to make decisions to control Covid that ended up having a negative impact on businesses. At times, I feel they’ve been ahead of the data that existed locally, especially compared to neighboring communities' actions. They overweighted some factors, while barely considering others. So, a lack of balance. 

“A more nuanced approach would have helped fitness businesses in town like Upbeat, Black Crow Yoga and others that are still struggling to make it through this.

"For example, Arlington stepped back to 'Phase 2' from 'Phase 3' of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan, on its own in December 2020 to Jan 2021, with questionable analysis and ill-defined goals for what they could hope to achieve on a local level.

"This hurt fitness businesses A LOT! It shut us down for three weeks for inside classes in December and January. It reinstilled fear needlessly, and we never really recovered from that messaging.

"They allowed us to reopen three weeks later, with very little change in the data, so a futile effort.

One of the metrics I was told that they considered was hospital capacities. Let me note that Arlington has no hospital AND the nearby towns where there are hospitals (Cambridge, Winchester, Burlington), all had worse data than Arlington and did not step back a phase with Arlington." 

"One of the metrics I was told that they considered was hospital capacities. Let me note that Arlington has no hospital AND the nearby towns where there are hospitals (Cambridge, Winchester, Burlington), all had worse data than Arlington and did not step back a phase with Arlington. In fact, every bordering town remained in sync with the Commonwealth and remained at Phase 3. A major unforced error, in my humble opinion."

She called the process for issuing the special permitting for commercial use of parks "too slow and bureaucratic, though probably quite fast by Arlington standards (June/July 2020). Other towns had taken similar steps on their own, with little bureaucracy, by comparison. I will give credit to the folks at the Recreation Department for quickly creating an easy process once the decision was made. They were helpful and on it.

"And in these towns, businesses were not hassled when they started using public parks in the initial months of the pandemic. The fact that the special permits are being retracted now, at the very moment when the mask mandate was reinstated is quite ironic.

"Why would you hassle local fitness businesses like [Black Crow Yoga] about using otherwise unused spaces, because you got a couple phone calls? That demonstrates an unfriendly business environment in Arlington.

"There are fitness businesses in town that have locations in other towns. Talk to them about comparing their experience with other towns vs. Arlington.

"The reestablishment of the mask mandate on Aug. 19 was a surprise to us business owners, and based on the data I’m seeing (and I follow all this pretty closely), an overreaction based on national news and not well reasoned, looking at all the data (e.g., 70 positive Covid cases in the prior 14 days but a high percentage growth based on the low base).

This is in the context of a town with an extremely high full vaccination rate. We are not Florida, Texas, Louisiana or Alabama."

"This is in the context of a town with an extremely high full vaccination rate. We are not Florida, Texas, Louisiana or Alabama. People here have been responsible. The mask mandate, again, sends a message that overly freaks people out, hurts businesses and it vilifies indoor fitness, a problem throughout the pandemic, despite that we’ve had heavier restrictions and taken probably more care than just about anyone."

Turning to financial matters, she wrote that she has probably invested close to $4,000 on Covid-protection measures alone. These include air-filtration system, Plexiglas panels (very expensive at height of Covid) and sanitizing supplies. This involved bigger distancing and capacity constraints than restaurants or other businesses had to put in place, she wrote.

"Overall, if you go to Cambridge, Davis Square, Belmont or Lexington, you will see a much more creative and flexible response to helping businesses use outdoor spaces. Way before Arlington allowed for restaurant parklets, Belmont closed down Leonard Street and made a wonderful and inviting restaurant festival space right in town center. Davis Square was a beehive of exciting and happening outdoor eateries.

"Arlington took longer and when it did allow sidewalk and parking space use, there are to this day ugly jersey barriers and orange cones. It just seems like there has been a lack of imagination, urgency and will in making business-friendly policies.

[As to investments and losses], "This is a sensitive topic for me. Pain is close, and I’m still living it."

Asked to document further what she has invested and lost, Maurer noted: "This is a sensitive topic for me. Pain is close, and I’m still living it.

"I was essentially a developer of the space at 6 Schouler Court. The building was not acceptable for occupancy when I decided to open my business there. The Arlington Building Department and the Redevelopment Board had many requirements. I invested in the building (probably not wisely). I worked closely and cooperatively with the owners, also local people and longtime business owners in Arlington.

"I invested a lot of money in renovating the space in the building so I could start Upbeat. I had looked for well over a year for other appropriate space but never found it. The owners also invested in order to make occupancy possible. All the money I invested in the building is a loss for me (though a gain for the town and of course the owners).

"So, between that and the other investments to start the business, I have a total loss in the significant six-figure range. I had to close because all the helping programs are gone, and this pandemic could very easily be going on this time next year or even this time in 2023. We could talk about vaccine reluctance and its role in actually preventing businesses from thriving, but, beyond scope. I’m not in a position to invest any more. My risk capital is exhausted.

"I won’t be pursuing any more entrepreneurial efforts, because I’ve lost my entire investment and available funds for such an endeavor. And this is the point. The capital is destroyed and unavailable for future investments that would grow and potentially benefit the economy. Other small businesses have and will be in this position all around the country.

"And this is due to Covid-destroying business plans and financials. There’s an old saying in investing parlance: You don’t really lose until you sell. Investing essentially comes down to timing, not being wrong or right. You’re not wrong; you’re too early or too late.

"So when Covid turned all the timing upside down, the losses ensued. Different timing, different result. Though, yes, there are also wrong investments.”

Maurer's background

Before starting Upbeat Cycling, Maurer worked for multiple firms in Boston in asset management. They include Standish Mellon, MFS, Babson Capital and State Street Research. She worked in marketing, product management and relationship management over that 25-year career, primarily in the institutional part of the business (e.g., pension funds, endowments and foundations.

She has an MBA from the F. W. Olin School of Management at Babson College and a BA from Bryn Mawr College. She was a high school and college athlete, and became an avid cyclist and eventually a “spin” instructor. She has lived in Arlington since 1987.

Can't beat Covid

"I was hopeful that easing Covid restrictions, high vaccination levels and low spread would boost people’s confidence allowing business to recover to viable levels," she wrote in her newsletter to clients. "However, the sustained effects of Covid and, now, the emergence of the Delta variant has prevented a rebound in demand for indoor group fitness. The result is that our business model is fundamentally altered and without an end in sight, it simply isn’t feasible to remain open."

More closing details for Upbeat

Upbeat continues to offer Upbeat@Home virtual on-demand classes including vRides, Cardio Strength, Barre and Pilates. These classes may be viewed for a week after the date shown on the schedule. All class packages can be used to take virtual classes, as has been the case since the pandemic started last year.

Until Sept. 12, all shoe rentals will be complementary. In addition, anyone who had active unused series before March 16, 2020, which expired over the last 18 months, is eligible to receive class credits to come in for class or to take Upbeat@Home. We’ll put new classes in your account so you can sign up and experience a last bit of Upbeat. Email jackie at upbeatcycling.com to arrange.

Maurer's newsletter says: "Upbeat Cycling has top-notch equipment and a beautifully curated decor. We will be selling everything and you could give us a last bit of support by purchasing something.

"Our best-in-class Stages SC3 bikes and other fitness equipment are for sale. We’ll be liquidating retail gear like bike shorts, barre socks, hoodies and T-shirts. We have a limited quantity of new TIEM cycling shoes and Wahoo heart rate monitors available and we’ll be selling all furniture, benches, artwork, appliances, lighting, shelving/storage, computers, lockers, used cycling shoes and more."

Upbeat will be holding open houses to view items and a silent auction, so the public can bid on items.

"For a last bit of Upbeat fun, we’ll hold a wine reception, silent-auction event, where you can socialize with old friends from class and put in some final bids. Bottom line, if it’s in the studio, it’s available for purchase. All proceeds will help us to pay bills and wind down the business gracefully. Any and all support will be much appreciated! Look for future communications with details and pictures of what’s available."

While this is a business decision, it is infused with much emotion."

The newsletter added, with heart: "While this is a business decision, it is infused with much emotion. I started Upbeat to pursue a passion and to provide a fun, high quality and inclusive place for exercise that brings the community together in a town I’ve made home for over 30 years. Before Covid, we were growing and building the Upbeat community — I loved the vibe we had going and I met so many awesome people I wouldn’t have otherwise!

"Thank you Upbeat Community for all your support over the last four years! An extra special shout out to the many people who made Upbeat their fitness home during Covid, whether you came into our Ride Theater for in-person classes; rode with us outside well into January (y’all are bad-ass!); took Upbeat@Home classes; or rented bikes from us. You helped keep Upbeat alive, sustaining us over the last year and a half.

"Thank you Upbeat Team for staying strong, standing up through all the adversity and making it work at every turn. Many of you shifted seamlessly to teaching virtual classes. You taught outside in a loading dock shouting class cues, in heat and humidity AND in the freezing cold amidst snow banks! A huge thank you to our front desk team, who lugged bikes inside and out, set up lighting in the dark in the depths of winter, and kept rolling with the ever-changing sanitizing and cleaning procedures. All with a great attitude!

"I will miss all of you the most, the music, our beautiful ride theater and the shared time in class together. The last 18 months has been challenging, and the decision to close heart wrenching for me. But when I think of all the great times and good folks I met along the way, I can feel happy about the Upbeat experience. Thanks for all the good times over the last four years." 


Dec. 28, 2016: FRESH SPIN: Upbeat Cycling coming to long-closed print site

 


This viewpoint was published Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.

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Comments

Donald Mei on Tuesday, 24 August 2021 12:14
Another victim of Covid hysteria.

Get vaccinated.

Get on with your life.

People think that mask mandates have no cost. They have huge cost in anxiety and apprehension when it comes to living a normal life.

This includes going to classes at a gym.

And again, based on MA data, you have a 9 in 100,000 chance of being hospitalized with Covid if you are vaccinated, and a 2 in 100,000 chance of dying.

You have a greater chance of dying of cancer, homicide, OR auto accident in the next year.

Get vaccinated. Get on with your life. People think that mask mandates have no cost. They have huge cost in anxiety and apprehension when it comes to living a normal life. This includes going to classes at a gym. And again, based on MA data, you have a 9 in 100,000 chance of being hospitalized with Covid if you are vaccinated, and a 2 in 100,000 chance of dying. You have a greater chance of dying of cancer, homicide, OR auto accident in the next year.
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