For our 21st Century Plague project, we spoke with 17 Georgians about the toll of COVID-19. Below, Shawn Ware—owner of Vibe Ride Grant Park and Westside—describes the outbreak’s impact on her business and her family. (Ware was interviewed on March 20.)
When the news about the coronavirus first came out, I was taking a break at home, between working at the Westside studio in the morning and Grant Park in the afternoon. I thought, Okay, well, this is just a flu. I’ve always been a gym rat, and I’ve always joked that I’ve been a germophobe since I was in the womb. I’m always washing my hands, using hand sanitizer. I thought, So, now you all are jumping on board for what I’ve been doing my whole life? But then, as the hours and days went on, I realized this was serious.
We were still not really in full panic, but we started taking precautions at the studios. We knew they could be a breeding ground for germs, so we tightened that up. And then when they came out with the word pandemic, we were like, Oh, crap.
We made sure to clean even more diligently, assuring the members that we had it under control—”You’re not going to get it from here. This is a safe place.”
We have staff and instructors who also work at the CDC or work closely with it, and we were communicating with them, and we decided to hang in there. But then came the news restricting gatherings to under 50 people. So we took precautions: cutting class sizes, social distancing, moving bikes. We figured we were okay. Then it went to 10 [people], and we were like, We can’t do it.
I spent most of the day today on the phone with our creditors and sending emails to landlords and to the people we lease bikes from, and they’re like, We get it. They’ve been extremely understanding, but it is a very, very scary time. One of our creditors said, We can defer for three months but we’ll still collect interest. Our largest creditor, Wells Fargo, is deferring payments with no late fees and no interest and no reporting to our credit bureau. But a community bank is going to charge us interest. They said, That’s just what we have to do. When we sent the email that we were going to suspend everyone’s membership, we had 35 to 40 people call and say, Don’t cancel. Don’t suspend our accounts. We want to continue to pay because we know you are hit hard, and this is our gym. We want to help and support you as much as we can. Some of these people have been members since the beginning. They’re not clients or strangers; they opened the doors with us. That has been so amazing.
I tell people all the time that, before my husband and I laid the foundation for the Grant Park studio, when there was mud and dirt, that’s what we wanted—that’s what we wanted people to feel. We wanted them to feel good.
My husband still works for the government, but we’ve always been a two-income household, so it is definitely a pinch. We have two kids, ages 20 and 26. The 20-year-old stays at home with us and goes to Georgia State, but he can’t now. Our daughter lives in Buckhead with a roommate. They’re taking it seriously. They’re adults.
My husband is 60 and has heart disease, so we want to make sure he is extra-protected. I’m a breast-cancer survivor. So we’re doing everything we can to be healthy. He had quadruple bypass surgery five years ago. We live in a condo downtown. We are in and out of the parking garage, touching that door all the time. Those are the things we have to be conscious about. We’re here, and we’re in the house more now, obviously. But it’s fine, it’s family time. We’ve got a puzzle. I got me some wine.
I hate saying, “I don’t know,” but I’m not in control of this thing.
Interview edited for length and clarity.