Danielle DeAngelo, co-owner of Jane Do Montclair, said financial struggles that started with the onset of the pandemic — and were exacerbated by the township’s current mask mandate — led to the decision to close the studio. (COURTESY JANE DO)
By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
Jane Do Montclair, a fitness studio focusing on women’s health, will be closing its Montclair location at the end of the month — and the studio’s co-founder says the township’s ongoing indoor mask mandate was the last in a long line of pandemic-era difficulties that made it impossible to keep going.
“As business owners, we are having to make tough decisions,” Danielle DeAngelo, who co-founded the brand with fellow former Radio City Rockettes Jacey Lambros in 2015, said. The studio has locations in Jersey City, Hoboken and Montclair, the latter opening in 2019. “And our concerns are if we hang on for a little bit longer, and there’s another mandate imposed on us or another variant, then we’re right back to where we started, if not worse.”
DeAngelo said since the initial, statewide shutdowns of non-essential businesses in March 2020, Jane Do launched a digital platform, which helped keep membership up. Gyms were allowed to reopen, with certain restrictions, in September of that year.
She said by November of last year, she felt optimistic that things were going in the right direction. Then, in December, daily coronavirus numbers throughout the state began rising quickly, fueled in part by the highly contagious omicron variant.
“We were starting to see growth and seeing the upward traction of clients being comfortable coming back into the studio,” DeAngelo said. “And with the variant in December, it just all crashed again. And with our Montclair studio in particular, we just can’t hang on any longer.”
Even as New Jersey allowed non-essential businesses to reopen, it required patrons to continue wearing masks indoors for several months. That mandate was lifted for most sorts of businesses in May of last year.
Throughout the state mask mandate, DeAngelo said, the studio saw a significant decrease in membership. She said since the Montclair location had only been open for six months before the onset of the pandemic, it didn’t have the same traction as other locations.
“We’re still operating at 60% less than we were seeing pre-pandemic,” DeAngelo said. “I think people have mask exhaustion. And people were willing to do it initially, and now they just said, forget it. We’re done.”
gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order lifting the statewide indoor mask mandate still allowed municipalities to impose their own. In December, Montclair and several other communities did so. In January, Montclair extended its rule until March 31, but also carved out exemptions for people engaging in indoor athletic activity, and for arts performers. By then, DeAngelo said, the decision to close Jane Do Montclair had already been made.
Additionally, DeAngelo said, because the Montclair studio has been open for only a limited amount of time, it didn’t have the financial track record needed to obtain small business loans.
“The loans don’t really help us because it’s going to take us such a long time to recoup all the damage that has been done, financially,” DeAngelo said.
DeAngelo said the studio applied for a state Economic Development Authority small business loan, but didn’t qualify because the income gathered since opening in September 2019 had been too small.
She said the studio got $3,000 worth of assistance from the EDA, but “that didn’t even cover my rent.”
“And for me to operate the [Montclair] studio, just to keep the door, the lights open, we needed a lot more,” DeAngelo said.
She said the Montclair Center Business Improvement District reached out to her since the studio announced its closure, asking what could do — such as helping negotiate with the studio’s landlord, or provide other resources.
But at the moment, she said, the studio needs financial support.
“Our landlord is doing the best that he can but also he has things that he has to take care of financially,” DeAngelo said. “So, as a female-led small business, we are still on the hook for three years’ worth of rent until it gets re-rented. And when you don’t have income coming in, it’s really a financial struggle.”
Councilman Peter Yacobellis, who sponsored Montclair’s mask mandate resolution, said he heard about the closure of Jane Do’s Montclair location. He said he knows the owners have poured their lives into the business, and “my heart breaks for them.”
“Making policy to protect public health in a relentless pandemic is challenging and we’re doing the best we can,” Yacobellis said.
Yacobellis said the township looked to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Health to craft and update its mask mandate policy. He said he respects those businesses that want to be heard in regards to the mandates and how it impacts them.
“Democracy demands public input into policy. But I put forward and my colleagues unanimously supported an emergency policy that we hoped would reduce the risk, even if only marginally, to people’s health and lives,” Yacobellis said. “You have to be fast and decisive in these situations, doing the best you can with the information you have from public health experts. And that’s what we did.”
Daniela Costanzo, owner of DFITa gym located at 4 Erie St., said she’s seen a decrease in membership of 29% compared to January 2021. She said the local mask mandate has been an issue, since most people don’t want to work out with a mask on .
Costanzo said the past few months have been stressful, but the exception for indoor athletic activity has been helpful.
Rock Tate, owner of Char Fitnesslocated at 8 Hartley St., said the gym has not seen a decrease in membership since it opened in January of 2021. He said the gym has gained an additional 10 members over the 50 when it opened.
Tate said in January, one of the busiest times for gyms due to the New Year resolutions, he saw a decrease in membership. But the memberships have been picking up this month, saying “February is the new January” for gym membership. He said he encourages his customers to wear masks, and about 90% do.
DeAngelo said the Montclair studio is the third studio that had to close in the pandemic — one in New York City and the other one in Edgewater, NJ have also shut down. But she said she is optimistic that the Jane Do brand is not going anymore. She said the company is revamping its online presence with its new app and will open a new studio in Charleston, South Carolina in the beginning of April.
“We will continue taking our business further south where there are not as many mandates, because the state of New Jersey has just become very expensive and the mandates just keep getting thrown our way,” DeAngelo said.
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