AerialCLT, a Charlotte studio known for its aerial silks and trapeze classes, is teetering on the potential of a permanent closure due to the COVID-19 crisis — but the owner isn’t giving up.
In an Instagram announcement on Tuesday, the studio wrote: “AerialCLT Family, we have had 8.5 years of serving you, our community. It is because of you that we have strived to do our very best to get through the past 3.5 months. With your support, we made it further than we thought we would be able to in the beginning of quarantine. We are still applying for grants, loans, rent forgiveness and any other bits of help. To be clear, we are not giving up. We just don’t know what’s next.”
After North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced that gyms would not be able to reopen in June, the studio announced its — hopefully temporary — closure. This comes in the wake of other local business closures and similar struggles by gyms, bars and other entertainment venues unable to reopen.
“We heard your discomfort with this decision and want to honor your feelings in the matter. The fact is, online classes can’t keep us afloat. They were a bandaid with bad adhesive. The band aid has now fallen off and in order to save any hopes for the future, we must cease all operations,” the Instagram post said.
“I wasn’t really prepared for a country-wide shutdown. That just didn’t seem like a possibility, and it very quickly became a reality,” said Amy Chirico, owner of AerialCLT.
Chirico chose to close the studio on March 17 — even before Cooper’s official shutdown announcement.
“We chose to close out of civic responsibility,” Chirico said. “I don’t think social distancing was a thing, and masks weren’t a thing. We just didn’t know what to do, and there was a lot of concern in the community.”
500 monthly members, 12 instructors
AerialCLT is home to 500 monthly members and 12 instructors. Its calendar, which is planned three to six months in advance, had been filled with performances, workshops and guest instructors.
“It was a big train to stop moving,” Chirico said.
The initial assumption was a 4-6 week closure. Now, it’s going on almost four months. To help maintain a source of income during the initial stages of the COVID-19 crisis, AerialCLT quickly shifted gears to provide online classes. It was a way for both instructors to earn income and for students to maintain their fitness routines. Unfortunately, the online class structure only worked for so long.
“People don’t want online conditioning the same way they want in-person aerial classes,” Chirico said. “It was a way to keep our community in touch with each other and for students to still keep in touch with their favorite instructors. So it was really worth it for quite a while, but I think the community’s enthusiasm waned and everyone’s getting depressed. Attendance has dropped significantly to the point where payroll is costing more than the studio is bringing in with online classes.”
To keep everything afloat, Chirico began paying instructors out of her own savings.
“That’s when we got to the point of just needing to stop all operations.”
The community steps forward
Some AerialCLT students put together a GoFundMe to help raise money for the studio, but at this point, it’s not enough for online classes to resume.
Chirico originally started the studio almost by accident. She was attending an aerial class in the back of an MMA gym when her instructor walked out. She resumed operation of the classes as an instructor and soon started her own practice in AerialCLT’s current 10,000-square-foot space.
Now, Chirico is doing everything she can to make sure she can reopen post-crisis. She was approved for a PPP loan, but it’s calculated based on payroll, and most of the teachers are contractors. The amount she was given came out to less than one month’s rent — the studio’s largest expense.
“I’ve been trying to not take on more debt because not only am I accumulating debt to my landlord, but to also be taking out loans that are accruing interest to continue to float the space is a compounding stressor for my family financially,” Chirico said.
Chirico has since applied for grants and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, but none have come through.
“My landlord is being very patient and understanding. He’s a great local guy, but he is also running a business, so he also has to get money somehow,” Chirico said.
“It seems there’s a really big misunderstanding from the public that there’s just money that’s easy to get ahold of to float business during this time, and that’s not the case,” Chirico said.