While the ongoing pandemic has crippled small businesses around the world, the health and wellness industry – ironically deemed non-essential — has been particularly hard hit. Is it any wonder that business owner and ‘wellness-preneur’ Karah Bunde didn’t throw in the towel when her new venture, Heirloom Athletics was shuttered two weeks after opening.
Inspired to launch Heirloom to help people pursue the best versions of themselves, Karah believes that fitness is just one part of a healthy and fulfilling life. More than a ‘gym,’ Heirloom was conceived as a gathering place Downtown for coach-led fitness classes, thoughtful discussion groups and host meaningful (and fun) events for members and the greater community.
“Our vision is be a productive part of Cambridge by uniting people around the core values of growth and connection. We understand that the better people feel about themselves, the more good they will then do in the world.”
And Karah is inspired by the idea that she can be a part of that movement. To transform the former antiques store into a space fit for wellness, she uncovered some beautiful features during demolition.
While not her first entrepreneurial venture, Karah considers this her most conventional one. A published author, blogger and craft business owner, she counts herself as “one of the lucky ones who was gifted years to explore whom I really wanted to be and what I really wanted to do with my one precious life.”
Heirloom is the culmination of that journey to date.
The ‘Grand Opening Workout’ was Saturday, February 29. Just two weeks later, Heirloom closed for social distancing prior to the state-mandated quarantine.
“When Maryland’s stay-at-home order was issued so soon after the opening, it worked to our advantage. Because we were still just figuring things out and adjusting to circumstances as they came up, the quarantine became one more thing we had to figure out and adapt to.”
She realized in the three months leading up to the opening that sustaining a successful online community was a challenge of engagement.
“Luckily, engagement is our jam, whether in person or not. Connection is one of our core values, we leaned heavily into that.”
To keep members engaged, “Team Heirloom” (Karah, Chris Markin, Angie Hengst, Sean Reincke, Dr. Casey Scott, Sue Reincke and Joel Bunde) offered programs and activities to stay fit – and connected. From mini weekly challenges to more robust monthly challenges, they approached the closure with a willingness to “figure it out.”
“We hosted Zoom fitness classes, Zoom happy hours and Zoom conversations. Coach Sean initiated a Just Keep Moving challenge to track all the miles we were walking, jogging, running, biking, swimming or rowing. Coach Angie posted weekly Barre Express videos for our members. Coach Chris delivered equipment we loaned to members at no charge. Coach Casey facilitated COVID-19 Q&As to keep us informed about the pandemic. And Sue managed to keep us all organized when goals, tasks and initiatives were shifting by the minute.”
She further explained that their team conducted hard conversations with members willing to share their stories about mental health, alcoholism, anxiety and eating habits. She also hosted a series of Facebook Live conversations with other local business owners to learn more about their experiences during the pandemic.
When the State allowed gyms to offer outdoor fitness classes in mid-May, Karah credits her generous neighbors for giving Heirloom access to hold those classes on their properties.
Going ‘outside the box’ – literally and metaphorically – Karah understands the services and programs Heirloom offers to their community is ‘only limited by our creativity.’
“Our objective has always been to over-deliver on value. We stayed focused on that during the closure and remain focused on that now. COVID-19 has reinforced our philosophy that the best marketing dollars are spent exceeding the expectations of the audience we already have.”
Bunde received one of Dorchester County’s $3,000 COVID grants and credits it with allowing her to stay current with operating expenses that remained despite the physical doors being closed.
Today, Heirloom Athletics is back open and hosting multiple coach-led classes each day with a class limit of 12 people inside, we still encourage people to work out outside whenever possible.
Over the past six months, Karah has learned many things about herself and her community, but most powerfully, the pandemic experience has positively reinforced that she’s on the right track.
“We are inspired by our community every day to be better ourselves. It feels very life imitating art-esque. It’s like business imitating life, except no one is imitating anything.”
To learn more about Karah and Team Heirloom or to see schedule of activities and classes, visit www.heirloomathletics.com.