Photos courtesy Fit Life Studio via Facebook

Tessa Effland thought her Tumwater fitness studio would only be closed a few weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We closed March 16,” she said. “I really thought it would be temporary. I had no idea it would be like this.”

But, like for so many small businesses, those weeks turned into months, and Effland struggled to pay her employees and her rent. After 10 years owning a business she started in her garage and grew into a multifaceted fitness studio with a nutritionist, an esthetician, and a massage space, Effland thought she may have to close her passion-based business for good.

But first she and her team revamped their business model in early April, with the hope it would generate enough revenue to keep them afloat. Effland also began applying for as many loans as she could. By that time, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) had opened to applicants and she began to work with her local bank to apply for the loan. However, she said her bank couldn’t help her. Her bank told her she was missing some information that was needed to move forward on her loan. She had an accountant at one time, but some things were never set up correctly.

“I was devastated. I thought, ‘This is it. We’ll be gone by May,’” she said. “I couldn’t pay my employees and I was behind on the rent. I started this studio in my garage and have watched it grow and now I thought I’d have to say goodbye.”

Then a family friend of Effland, who works with America’s Credit Union (ACU), asked her if she wanted help. She refused at first only because she believed she couldn’t qualify. That friend eventually convinced her to let ACU try again to get her the PPP loan she desperately needed.

Over the course of three long days, Effland and two ACU representatives worked together to collect the information required for the loan.

“It was very stressful,” Effland said. “I didn’t think we were going to be able to meet the deadline, but they were very helpful in getting everything organized.”

With the steady encouragement of the ACU representatives setting up the account and delivering the documents, they pieced it all together and submitted the application on a Friday. On Monday, she had her loan.

“I burst into tears when I heard,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was so relieved that there was hope. ACU is really the only reason why I’m still here. They were so helpful and offered sound business advice.”

Effland hadn’t requested a terribly large sum of money, but it was enough. With the PPP funds, she was able to pay her rent and her six employees for the two months they missed.

FitLife Studio is now open, most of the studio’s services having pivoted to private classes and personal training to help prevent the spread of the pandemic. Effland is thrilled to be able to do what she loves again.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “I’m so grateful to still be here.”

The PPP program hasn’t been without its critics, but for those it helped, like Effland, it’s been a lifesaver. According to the Small Business Administration, nearly 5 million loans have been approved for small businesses throughout the United States — almost 66,000 of those loans to Washington businesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy on anyone, Effland said, but she hopes other businesses that need it can receive the same help she did to keep their doors open.