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Martial-arts facility taking big hit during shutdown

Kristine Blackman, left, and her husband, Phillip, are beyond eager to re-open their martial-arts business but coronavirus restrictions have kept indoor recreation facilities shut down. (Courtesy of Blackman’s Championship Martial Arts)

Kristine Blackman watched and listened to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s news conference on Thursday, hoping for good news.

What Blackman heard instead, were she so inclined, could have driven her to drink.

“She’s opening up breweries,” Blackman, who with her husband, Phillip, owns and operates an Albuquerque martial-arts studio, said in a phone interview. “But we are still not allowed to have our group classes, and we cannot believe how difficult they’re making it for our people.

“It’s totally ridiculous, and I mean we’re not going to survive as small businesses if we’re not allowed to open soon.”

Blackman’s Championship Martial Arts, like all New Mexico businesses deemed non-essential, was closed down in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Many of those — restaurants, golf courses, fitness and competitive gyms, salons and barber shops, retail shops and now breweries — have been allowed to re-open in limited fashion.

Indoor recreational facilities like the Blackmans’ have not, deemed potential breeding grounds for transmission of the coronavirus.

Other states have relaxed those restrictions, allowing martial-arts studios and other communal-recreation enterprises — gymnastics, yoga, Pilates, dance — to re-open. Not New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham did not specifically address the issue on Thursday. But, noting a surge of new COVID-19 infections in other states — most notably Arizona, our neighbor to the west — she said re-opening the economy too soon and too expansively could produce a similar result in New Mexico.

The state, in fact, has seen an uptick in coronavirus infections the past week. Most of those have occurred in prison facilities and in western and northwestern counties, and only a few in Bernalillo County. But Dr. David Scrase, the governor’s top medical advisor on the coronavirus, told the Journal he could not discount the gradual reopening as a factor.

Lujan Grisham, meanwhile, has received positive reviews nationally for her response to COVID-19.

“We made tough decisions and it saved lives,” she said on Thursday.

Not everyone is on board.

“Her decisions defy logic as New Mexicans continue to struggle and lose their livelihoods,” state Republican chairman Steve Pearce said on Thursday.

Blackman echoed Pearce’s sentiments.

“A lot of us (small-business owners) are just going to die on the vine if this doesn’t change,” she said.

Blackman made it clear she’s not speaking only for herself and her husband.

“I’ve reached out to other business owners,” she said. “I know the lady that owns Club Pilates. She’s in even a worse situation than I am because she doesn’t have any (children’s classes). We can at least offer stuff for our kids.”

Before the pandemic, Blackman said, as many as 300 people — young students and their parents, adult students — might pass through her facility on a given day. Now, she and her husband are permitted only to conduct kids’ summer classes, involving no more than five people at a time, and two-to-one private lessons.

The Blackmans have offered virtual instruction, she said, but those efforts have not been met with much enthusiasm — lacking the camaraderie on which such businesses rely.

“We’re family here,” she said. “We’re really a family, a community. It’s not just the physical activity, it’s the community activity.”

If safety is the concern, Blackman believes she and her husband can conduct their business in accordance with every rule the state has laid down.

What they’re doing in that regard with the limited youth summer classes they’re permitted to conduct within the state’s restrictions, she said, could be done as well in the normal course of business.

“We’re being totally above and beyond safe,” Blackman said. “… We have 12 to 13 feet between our few kids that are coming here. We can maintain that with our large group classes once they resume.

“When people walk in my door right now for these little groups of five, the first thing I have them do is take their shoes off. … They put hand sanitizer on. I take their temperature.”

Though the martial arts generally are seen as a contact activity, they don’t have to be. The Blackmans have made adjustments to their offerings, ensuring social distance.

The financial impact of the shutdown, she said, is acutely felt.

“Before this, we had over 400 (patrons),” she said. “I know we’ve lost 60 and probably more that I don’t know about.

“We’re running at maybe 1 percent of our capacity. No business is going to survive that for very long.”

A Paycheck Protection Program loan has helped the Blackmans stay above water. Kristine Blackman also applied for and got an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, “but you have to pay that back, so it’s basically pushing businesses farther into debt.

“I appreciate the money, don’t get me wrong, because that’s going to float us from this. But the bottom line is in six months I’m going to have to start paying that back.”

Cleanliness, Blackman said, always has been a priority in her facility.

“I had one mother say, ‘I would eat off your mat,'” she said. “That’s how clean it is here.

“And she wanted to hire us to come and clean her house. I said, ‘Well, I might need a job, so I’ll let you know.'”

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