Kybra Athletics, 804 North Broadway, Knoxville, September 2018
One of the painful parts of the downtown story is when the time comes to say goodbye to businesses. So many great people have invested their hearts into making the city a better place, that it hurts to see those dreams end. Each story is different, however, some have surprising endings and many businesses face headwinds they could not have anticipated. Often there is a next chapter that may be even better.
When KyBra Athletics opened in January 2017 and I first met David and Sue Finney, they were investing in a stretch of Broadway that was starting to come alive, but had a long way to go. I admired their determination to bring a fitness business to the area and, honestly, I didn’t understand how successful the business would be. I often don’t.
The business thrived and just over a year after moving in, the couple expanded and improved the facility. They incorporated an additional 2,000 square feet of workout space and 1200 square feet of office space. The new building owners got a facade grant from the city and the building looked better than ever inside and out. They added showers and had more room for their classes and personal training sessions.
There would have been no way to know as the business continued to thrive through 2019 that 2020 would bring an entirely different challenge in the global pandemic. Like many businesses, the closures early this year proved difficult to navigate. The variable compounding their situation was that the nature of their business made a short-term return unlikely. It’s hard to operate classes and do personal training while wearing a mask or socially distancing.
I spoke with David who said,
We went from making money to losing it and there wasn’t a clear path back to profitability. The restrictions cut our class size down, and combined with the members we lost, we couldn’t make the numbers work. If it were all over today, we’d be fine and we’d just tough it out.
Unfortunately, I’m worried the worst is yet to come in terms of business closure, so we made a move and got out. Our plan is to pivot the business and turn it into a free online resource for families that want to be active in the outdoors. We’ll figure out how to monetize it further down the line once we have good traffic to the new site.
Our digital marketing agency is doing very well. Everyone wants a better online presence, so we’re busier than ever. I worry about all the small businesses in downtown Knoxville being able to survive. . . If we go through another shut down, it will be a disaster for the downtown scene.
The couple has decided to take the opportunity to have more time with their children. They are selling their home in Knoxville and “living on the road for a bit,” while they homeschool their children. “Our ultimate goal is to end up in the Rocky Mountains in Utah and run the company from there. We figured now is as good a time as any to not be tied down anywhere.”