Toronto community rallies around popular yoga studio in the face of COVID-19

On a tour of her Leslieville yoga studio, Rachelle Wintzen shows the lengths that she went to, in order to save her business during the pandemic.

“I turned my treatment room into my bedroom. So I literally live at the studio,” she said speaking to CTV News Toronto on Wednesday.

The owner of Chi Junky admits she was on the brink of closing last spring.

“Things were still really, really difficult. So I gave up my home,” Wintzen explained.

Today, the studio is open to in-person classes. They have reduced capacity because of Omicron, but the business is surviving. Wintzen and the community she created, are becoming story of perseverance.

Chi Junky began eight years ago when Wintzen started teaching yoga in one small studio. Growth was steady and Chi Junky eventually took over the entire building. Business was so good that Wintzen opted to renovate in late 2019. The renovation finished in February of 2020.

“We reopened February of 2020. Saw the best month we’d ever seen, and five weeks later, the pandemic hit and we closed,” she said.

Business dropped from 700 clients per week, down to nothing.

In the spring of 2020, the bills kept coming and renovation debt was piling up. The staff of 56 people had to be laid off and Wintzen was overcome with grief, but, she went back to how it all started.

“I started teaching on zoom and teaching all of the classes,” she said.

Pivoting to online classes allowed Wintzen to keep contact with her community. She wasn’t making enough, but chose to keep her business alive. So when 2021 came around, she needed help to reopen her doors.

“People showed up in droves. They were like, ‘what do you need?’ People were cleaning, people were helping, doing everything,” she said.

People like Carm Silvers, a regular client who is volunteering to help in exchange for classes.

“Everyone wants to pitch in. Everyone wants to see one another succeed, and there’s just sense of belonging,” Silvers said.

Thanks to Chi Junky’s reputation, Wintzen was chosen by Mazda Canada as part of their ‘Local Legends’ program, aimed at helping rebuild small businesses after COVID-19.

Neil Bowmester of Mazda Canada says, “They’re pillars of their community, they truly are local legends. Not just because they’re a small business but because of what they do for their community.”

As a result, Chi Junky is receiving a grant of $100,000 to help recover post-pandemic.

Wintzen says, “there were a lot of tears when people first came back into the space and had a real life class, there were a lot of emotions.”

Now that Chi Junky is open, and they have combined in-person with online, Wintzen says revenue is still only 25 per cent of what they need, but they are building back.

“I’m holding my breath, like I’m not, I’m not taking anything for granted, I’m still taking it day by day,” she said.

And hoping not just to get back to where they were, but move forward.