ASHEVILLE – When Gov. Roy Cooper issued the first stay-at-home order in March, Mike Hiers said it was like a switch was thrown.
The DoorDash courier, considered an essential worker during COVID shutdowns, suddenly had more work than he could handle delivering food to people sheltering at home.
“Right after the pandemic hit, it was boffo,” Hiers said. “The minute you drop one off, you got another. It was nonstop.”
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For a span of about 8-10 weeks, he consistently made $1000 a week or more. Soon, the 20-year resident of Asheville and Asheville Yoga Festival founder had enough financial cushion to invest in his first business: a yoga studio.
Hiers has since opened Breeze Yoga Space on Short McDowell Street, close to the Asheville Habitat For Humanity store.
Built from the ground up to address COVID-19 safety, Breeze Yoga Studio is equipped with custom 36-square-foot mats on which each yoga student can both practice poses and social distancing.
‘Disperse the exhale’
Pre-COVID, Breeze could have held up to 70, Hiers figures. Now, it holds about 10 people and a teacher.
“Everybody has about 80 square feet per person, and we have these big industrial fans,” Hiers said. “Combined, they’re moving about 30,000 cubic feet of air per minute.”
A rolling door opens up one side of the building. With the two other doors standing open and the fans blowing, Hiers feels safer in the building than he would outside on a still day.
“When (students) do their outbreath, we want air whisked out of the building before anyone had the time to breathe a viral load that is very compact,” he said.
The main goal of the fans, he said, is to “disperse the exhale.”
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“When I started figuring this out in my brain, when I looked at yoga from the outside, it’s a lot of people compacted together in a small space for a long time and you’re told to breathe deep and hard,” he said. “Everything about yoga throws up red flags that have to be addressed.”
In everything he does Hiers keeps COVID in mind.
“I wear a mask religiously,” he said, adding that he splurged on N95 masks, which he wears during any personal interaction. During food pickups and dropoffs — yes, Hiers continues to deliver food several days a week — he rarely comes into contact with anyone.
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Especially in the beginning of the pandemic, the closest contact Hiers had with his customers usually came in handwritten notes.
“It touches your heart when they leave a little note, like ‘Please stay safe and god bless you for bringing me food,'” he said.
Leave your drama at the door
So far Breeze has been nothing but, well, breezy fun, Hiers said.
If you think yoga is generally a relaxed pursuit, apparently you don’t know the Asheville yoga scene, which Hiers described as sometimes rife with drama.
“I could write a novel,” he said.
Suffice it to say that with teacher training having been a lucrative local industry, Asheville is flush with topnotch yoga teachers for a city its size, Hiers explained.
“Asheville is only so big, and we’ve always had a stunning amount of yoga and good quality teachers and studios, far exceeding the customer base,” he said.
Hiers remains amazed by the pool of talented local teachers, five of whom work in his studio teaching sliding-scale classes starting at $10 each.
Uninspired by Zoom yoga, Hiers thinks this is the answer to staying fit and sane during an uncertain time. Trapped in a car for many hours a week, the nearly 70-year-old said he feared he would lose his carefully tended “fitness edge.”
“Breeze’s genesis came from my desperation to come up with something safe where we could practice,” Hiers said.
Breeze Yoga Space is at 515 Short McDowell St., building 3. Check the schedule and meet the teachers at https://www.breezeyogaspace.com.
Mackensy Lunsford has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years, and has been a staff writer for the Asheville Citizen Times since 2012. Lunsford is a former professional line cook and one-time restaurant owner.
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This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: DoorDash courier made enough cash during COVID to build open-air yoga studio in Asheville