Their Life's Work: How a yoga studio, consignment shop, martial arts club adapt during the pandemic

  • Paula Mueller of Paula's Couture Consignment in Batavia has started livestreaming fashion shows from her Batavia store on Wednesday nights as a way to stay connected to her customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Paula Mueller of Paula's Couture Consignment in Batavia has started livestreaming fashion shows from her Batavia store on Wednesday nights as a way to stay connected to her customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jeff Knox/jknox@dailyherald.conm

 
Updated 4/8/2020 8:06 AM

Illinois has more than 1 million small businesses -- some new, some old, some family legacies, others personal dreams.

Each proprietor has a story to tell about how things have changed dramatically for them with the onset of the coronavirus, how they're adapting, how they're trying to hold it together and how their life's work hangs in the balance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Here are profiles of three suburban small business owners in the third part of a continuing series.

Consignment shop

Paula Mueller worked at a consignment shop in Aurora for six years but, after a divorce, decided to go into business for herself 16 months ago.

Paula's Couture Consignment in Batavia is a one-woman operation. "It's sort of my remake," she said.

Mueller feels she can weather the economic storm because she has kept her expenses low. To keep sales flowing, she has started to livestream fashion shows every Wednesday evening.

"Everyone wants to help initially, but then you start to settle in, and it's the settling in that I worry about," she said.

-- Jeff Knox

The yoga studio

Evelyn Castro conducts a virtual yoga class using her laptop and the Zoom application in her Streamwood living room.
  Evelyn Castro conducts a virtual yoga class using her laptop and the Zoom application in her Streamwood living room. - John Starks | Staff Photographer
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When siblings Evelyn and Kevin Castro were forced to close Vida Yoga and Fitness in Elgin, she transitioned her daily yoga classes from the physical mats in their storefront to the virtual mats of the internet.

Clients work out with them through the video meeting app Zoom.

Kevin leads a cardio class from his apartment above the business each morning, while Evelyn leads at least one yoga class daily from her Streamwood living room.

"As Latinos we mainly want to bring diversity into the yoga industry," she said. "We want everyone to have the benefits of yoga. We are trying to stay connected for everybody's peace of mind. It's day by day for now."

-- John Starks

Martial arts club

Jim O'Hara of Focus Martial Arts & Fitness in Lake in the Hills has moved online with recorded and Zoom classes as a substitute for meeting in person.
  Jim O'Hara of Focus Martial Arts & Fitness in Lake in the Hills has moved online with recorded and Zoom classes as a substitute for meeting in person. - Rick West | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"When this hit we realized if we don't move fast, we're going to go out of business," said Jim O'Hara, who with his wife, Marianne, opened Focus Martial Arts & Fitness 27 years ago. They've been in the same Lake in the Hills location for the last 17.

"And then all these people that were part of our program that benefit from what we offer are going to have another loss."

The O'Haras have started posting recorded training sessions each week for those whose schedules had gotten out of whack. They're also doing live Zoom classes, which Jim says are vital.

"The social coming together is important," he said. "There is a lot of isolation right now, which can lead to depression. I'm concerned about my families because people are going to die, or people close to them are going to die.

"We're looking into making changes so we can help them deal with those painful times that people are going to go through.

"We're lucky enough with the technology that we could adjust so that people are hanging in there longer than they would if we couldn't connect with them," he said.

"We're hoping to keep our heads high enough above water that we can make ends meet and we can rebuild it when we move through this."

-- Rick West

• Do you know of a suburban small business with a compelling story to tell about working through the pandemic? Send photo director Jeff Knox a detailed email with LIFE'S WORK in the subject line at jknox@dailyherald.com, and we'll consider it.

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