Kristen Moustrouphis faced a problem when she reopened her fitness business in late spring two months after halting in-person workouts because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She had to move classes at Beacon Community Fitness outside to accommodate physical distancing guidelines. The state requires 14 feet around people who are exercising because they are breathing harder, increasing the amount of space needed to lessen the risk of infecting others beyond the typical 6 feet.

Initially, Moustrouphis moved classes to a school field near her business on Cove Street, but that required her and her employees to lug heavy equipment used in the cross-fit training several blocks, back and forth, daily. Then she shifted the classes to her parking lot, but the state distancing guidelines meant she could only accommodate about seven customers in a class.

“We quickly realized that having a downsized class of seven was not a sustainable business model,” said Moustrouphis, who is trying to rebuild her business after losing customers due to the pandemic.

Kristen Moustrouphis, owner of Beacon Community Fitness, lifts a kettle bell as part of an outdoor core stabilization workout Thursday. A block of Cove Street is closed so the center can hold classes in the street. Some neighboring businesses are upset that the city closed the street without seeking input. A sign says the businesses along the street are open, but it’s not obvious how to get there because there are no detour signs. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

So she asked the city to allow her to close a portion of the street in front of her studio, which is just off Marginal Way. The city approved the request, but apparently never sought input from, or even notified, businesses who share the street with her.

John Danos, who owns the Cove Street Arts gallery, “found out about it driving to work” when he encountered concrete barriers one day in early July.

“I thought it might be road construction,” Danos said.

But after a few calls to the city, he learned that the road was closed for exercise classes. The concrete barriers were later replaced with portable barricades that Moustrouphis and her workers put up early in the morning and take down in the evening on weekdays. On the weekends, she holds classes in the morning and removes the barriers for the afternoon.

Using the space the street closing affords is “essential for us to be able to come back to being a viable business,” she said.

Moustrophis said she wasn’t aware that the city didn’t notify other businesses about the street closing. She also said she wants to help her neighbors get out the word that people also can access Cove Street by using Anderson Street, instead of the more heavily traveled Marginal Way.

Kevin Rush of Portland runs with a 10-pound ball as part of an outdoor workout Thursday at Beacon Community Fitness. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

She also backed a city decision to post a sign saying that Cove Street businesses are open, although it doesn’t include detour instructions on how to access the other end of the street.

But Danos and Kristin Thalheimer Bingham, who owns Dean’s Sweets with her husband, said they are concerned that the city would act to help one business without considering the impact on others and then not even notify the other businesses of the decision.

“It was a complete surprise,” Bingham said. “Every time we’ve tried to support a solution, we were told that’s not possible, so that’s been frustrating.”

City officials are relying heavily on road closings to help businesses reopen and recover. Numerous streets or sections of them have been closed in Portland’s Old Port to allow restaurants to provide more outdoor seating.

“We have re-evaluated the partial closure (of Cove Street) more than once,” city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said in an email Thursday afternoon.

She noted that the city put up the sign about Cove Street businesses still being open and the switch to movable barriers to allow the street to be reopened for short periods.

Meg Jones of Gorham works out Thursday at Beacon Community Fitness. A block of Cove Street is closed so the center can hold classes in the street. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“We know this is a difficult time for small businesses, and do not make these decisions lightly,” Grondin said. “We feel that our original determination, which was based on an assessment of alternate traffic routes and patterns, does not have a significant negative impact on other Cove Street businesses.”

Danos and Bingham said it’s difficult to quantify the impact on their businesses because it’s hard to sort out how much lost business is due to the pandemic and how much might be due to the road closing.

“We have very few people coming in,” Danos said.

He doubts many would be willing to drive around the Back Cove area looking for a route to his gallery once they encounter a closed entrance on Marginal Way, probably the route most people would take to access Cove Street.

“There are only two ways here and that’s the main way,” he said, and he suspects that many potential customers just give up after encountering the barriers.

Moustrouphis said she wants to work with her neighboring businesses to make them more visible and help customers find them with part of the road closed. She said she’s promoted those businesses on her Facebook page to make sure her customers know they are open, even if part of the road is not.

She said one of her classes Saturday morning is open to the public and she wants to build more ties between her business and her neighboring businesses.

“We get it – we’re in it, too,” she said. “Part of what we do is build community.”

Moustrouphis said the city should also learn a lesson from what’s happened on Cove Street.

“It’s been very hard and I don’t think this process is perfect,” she said. “I think (city officials) have heard and know that now.”

The closing is open-ended and Danos and Bingham said they have no idea when, or if, the Cove Street entrance off Marginal Way might be reopened.

Any extension deep into the fall, and then a renewed closing next spring, would have a serious impact on his gallery, Danos said.

“Our high season this year is going to be terrible,” he said. “Whether or not we’re going to survive the winter is an open question.”

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