We all know the story, but do we know the ending?
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been picky or fussy. Like it or not, it has touched all of our lives. For many individuals, the pandemic has been tragic—and it’s been rough on many businesses, including those in curling.
From shutdowns and outright closures to mask mandates, new capacity policies and COVID-19 rules for gameplay, many curling clubs—and their wildly creative managers—have had to assess and address the challenges. Events and travel were suspended or cancelled. Many clubs made the decision to not open or to open for a limited time. Still, others stayed open and pushed through. It all depended on the risk and reward for each facility and its financial situation.
My own facility, Four Seasons Curling Club (FSCC) in Blaine, MN was no different. For anyone not familiar, FSCC is six-sheeter that opened in 2013 and was built as an addition to a two-sheet hockey facility. In the beginning of the pandemic we felt pretty good about where we stood. We adapted quickly to the rapidly changing situation and rules. We wrote and published new policy documents with every new mandate and change.
On March 16, 2020 our state governor announced the first of a number of “Stay at Home” orders that closed all nonessential businesses. All of our operations—Fogerty Arena, Sticks & Stones Restaurant and FSCC—were closed and remained closed until June 1.
During this first shutdown, we laid off our part-time help and kept only a skeleton crew of full-time staff on payroll. On June 1 we were allowed to reopen hockey and curling on a limited basis with mask and group-size restrictions. A ton of work went into educating our members, putting together policies, and posting new covid signage around the facility. Our restaurant remained closed until July 6 although we were allowed to provide curbside pickup starting in June.
Throughout this process, we also tracked down all government assistance and grants we could find. On many days that we had serious discussions about closing altogether. However, the government assistance, from both national and local sources, seemed to come through at just the right times to keep us going. With this help, we limped through the summer months and were able to open our fall curling registration in July. Our restaurant also reopened to limited capacity that month, and things were looking somewhat better.
It wasn’t until our fall league began play on September 13 that we realized the full impact of COVID-19 on our operations. Fall and winter are typically the busiest time for leagues and corporate curling events, but our fall league came in at just 60% of our budget—and due to the restrictions, nearly all our corporate business was gone. The restaurant was a ghost town and we were barely scraping by. Hockey was doing surprisingly well and was supporting almost all of the operations.
Then disaster struck. With cases, hospitalizations, and deaths spiking again our second covid shutdown arrived on November 20. This was a full shutdown of all operations and would have us closed for over a month. At this point, all but two full-time staff were furloughed and put on unemployment.
It was clear we had to make a tough decision about our restaurant. We closed Sticks & Stones, permanently, and let go of 30 wonderful employees. It was one of the most difficult days at the facility and in all of our lives. We seriously wondered whether the rest of the business would survive.
Given the situation, we felt that it was time to reach out for help—and the “Save Fogerty” campaign was born.
We reached out to a number of top athletes that had once called our facility home to help us with a fundraising campaign. NHL players David Backes and Nick Bjugstad answered the call as did Olympic curling champion John Shuster, and a host of others contributed video clips to a montage asking the local and national community for help.
The piece went out on social media in December and was immediately picked up by all the major local news outlets. The campaign turned out to be a great success and yielded nearly $120,000.
With the help of many donors we had enough money to serve as a bridge to get us through December and most of January until our next round of government relief came through. The facility was able to reopen for business on January 4 under new restrictions. The winter curling league began on January 21 and our annual youth and school programs even came back to play in February.
In the months leading to summer, we’ve been up and running with both hockey and curling. Although we have been operating at around 60% of budget and have yet to find a new operator for the restaurant, vaccinations in our state have gone very well. Our mask mandate was lifted and we’ve hosted our first camp and bonspiel in over a year. Our August summerspiel, Blazin’ Brooms, has sold out with 40 teams booked to participate.
There seems to be a sense of optimism about the fall and we are hopeful to see the return of every one of our members, young and old, plus our corporate guests. However, it remains to be seen what the long-term impact of this global pandemic will look like. We’re looking forward to a happy ending to this story ... seeing our numbers back to pre-pandemic levels and anticipating them to grow through next February’s Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
As we noted in a video during our first shutdown, curling is definitely not the most important thing in life and we would be remiss if we didn’t send our thoughts to all of the families and friends who have been impacted by COVID-19. Please stay safe and be well.