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'I Have More Of A Storefront Now': Milwaukee Dance Studio Owner Finds Silver Lining Running A Business In A Pandemic

Brianna Washington (far left) leads a small dance group in her new studio.
Courtesy of Brianna Washington
Brianna Washington (far left) leads a small dance group in her new studio.

It’s been about a year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin; one year of seeing life as we knew it turned on its head by a highly contagious virus.

For a series we are calling COVID Earners, we’re looking at how people of color who own small businesses have survived in the COVID-19 economy.

Brianna Washington, owner of 617 Dance Space, started her business in 2018. She describes it as “a space for women” that offers weekly classes, ladies’ night events and workshops. Washington moved to a new storefront on Brown Deer Road last September.

Before the pandemic, Washington says business was doing well.

“Then March hit. And it was just like, I think, the second week of March I had to shut down. I was closed from ... March through June, no business at all. ... June was the end of my lease, so I was just like there's no way I can renew my lease right now, like I really don't know where we're going. And I was out by the end of June,” she says.

By August, she felt the pressure of not having a place to put her business. She says at the time she felt hopeful about the pandemic.

“I honestly thought we were at a place where the pandemic was coming to an end. I don't know why I thought that, but so I did start looking for a new space in August with the hopes of everything will be back to normal; this is probably a chance for me to find a bigger space or something like that. And I found this place in September,” she says.

But opening a new location during a pandemic is tough. Washington says before moving, she didn’t do much advertising.

Brianna Washington in her new studio.
Courtesy of Brianna Washington
Brianna Washington in her new studio.

Now, she is doing everything she can to attract new customers.

“I’m trying to offer free classes and discounted classes. I started doing like uploading step-by-step on Instagram for people to do. Started incorporating virtual classes, just trying to find a way to keep income coming in, also keep people knowing about 617 and trying to get them through the door,” she says.

The experience hasn’t been all bad, according to Washington. The new space is giving her opportunities that she would have never have if it wasn’t for the pandemic and the move.

“I would definitely say the fact that I have more of a storefront now, I'll say that. Being in a lower level, it was like no one even knew I was there, so I feel like now I have more opportunity to get my business out there and get the business scene and finding women you know and letting him know what 617 is and things like that,” she says.

As everyone continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington says dancing is one way to help release stress, and that 617 offers women in the community a space to release, and build confidence, while getting a great workout.

Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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