UFC vet and Pedro Sauer 4th degree black belt Jeff Curran taught martial arts in more than ten locations before building his dream facility in 2018. It was a success, and he was on track to have his best month ever in March. But now he has been forced to close the business due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“May 1, 2018, I signed a new lease on this building and we had our grand opening Sept. 4, 2018. So I worked for four months renovating this place. Maybe raised $125,000 or $130,000 in cash and then put another $25,000 or $30,000 out of our pocket in credit cards. The cash we raised was through these lifetime memberships. These $5,000 lifetime deals. So I had no money to work with. I think we sold 18 of those. Just kind of grinding and just pushing to save money. We opened up and we’ve been killing it since. The business has been growing.”
Then COVID-19 erupted.
“To be safe we closed down for the week, it was around March 12 or 13, I put a notice in the door saying we’ll be closing for a week and we’ll let everybody know in a week what’s going on," said Curran. "That was the start of it.”
Then Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed all gyms. Curran continued paying full rent to avoid any legal issues, but that was short-lived as cashflow had reduced precipitously. He had a ten-year lease, and had intended to buy the building when he had sufficient capital. But his landlord, who has a mortgage to pay off, wanted to retire and sell the building. Ultimately Curran and his landlord came to an agreement to end the lease.
Curran is now teaching in a room at a church where one of his students is the pastor.
“This July is our 23rd anniversary for having my first school, my first academy,” said Curran. “It’s kind of weird to not have one.”
This doesn’t just affect Curran of course. His longtime student Felice Herrig fights Virna Jandiroba at UFC 252 on Aug. 15.
“I told her unlike before, I’ll do whatever I can to help you and you do whatever you need to get ready for this fight,” he explained. “I’m not going to have ill will towards another gym if you want to go somewhere else or drive to Chicago or have another coach. You do what you need to do. I can’t be there for her. Right now, I don’t even have a gym let alone sparring partners. These are the physical things I’m short. There’s also an emotional and mental side that I’m just so exhausted from what I went through and what I have coming.”
Curran’s ordeal is one facing countless gym owners, and for many of us, may become the new normal in 2020.