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Leena Miller Cressman (left) and Leslie Stokman sit outside the new location of Queen Street Yoga that is now called The Branches and located on Samuel Street.
By Carrie Debrone
June 8, 2021
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the ability to adapt to change is a huge attribute.
And no place is that more true than in small business.
After 16 years in downtown Kitchener, Queen Street Yoga is moving to Samuel Street and changing its name to The Branches.
Like so many others, this small business has been forced to adapt to the new realities that COVID-19 has brought all of us.
Faced with paying rent on a large, empty commercial space as the pandemic dragged on, Queen Street Yoga’s owner, Leena Miller Cressman realized she needed to make a change.
Owning and operating the business since 2012, she said she didn’t feel like closing something so treasured by many long-time students was an option.
So she, and former schoolteacher and long-time employee Leslie Stokman, joined forces and became co-owners of a century duplex at 9 Samuel Street (near Frederick St.) in January.
They hired local contractor Ralph Cressman (Miller Cressman’s father-in-law) to complete renovations that will see one side of the duplex provide two studio spaces (one on the main floor), washrooms, lounge area, offices, front reception area and large backyard deck for outdoor classes.
A ramp will be installed at the front entrance to make the studio more accessible, and the co-owners plan to offer more classes to people with mobility issues.
Socially-distanced outdoor classes will start this week, and they hope to have indoor classes start in the summer.
The other half of the duplex is also being renovated and will become Stokman’s new home.
“Previously I thought I’d never be a homeowner,” she said, adding that the opportunity to both own a business and live in Kitchener’s downtown area feels right.
“The property just had so many things we were looking for. We love the neighbourhood and its proximity to downtown. It’s on major transit routes, its walkable, has a large deck and it had the potential to create a main floor studio,” Stokman said.
Although the name has changed, The Branches’ mission remains: yoga taught with inclusivity, a keen curiosity in the latest movement techniques, and a healthy dose of community activism.
“Our philosophy has always been to take the intimidation factor out of yoga. We’ve had a more nuts and bolts approach and see yoga as a way to care for your mind and body,” Miller Cressman said.
The studio will continue to offer classes for anxiety and depression, meditation for resilient living, and yoga for trauma recovery.
Since January, its 12 weekly classes have been offered only online. But once businesses are allowed more freedom to open, The Branches aims to return to its pre-pandemic level of 20 to 30 in-person classes (indoor and outdoor) weekly as well as continue its online classes and yoga teacher training.
It currently employs 12 teachers and offers virtual ‘on demand’ classes as well as live streamed classes.
The business move is part of a trend of young entrepreneurs in downtown Kitchener who are purchasing their own properties – despite intimidating real estate prices -- in order to find stability in the city’s quickly-changing core.
Queen Street Yoga had been located at 44 Queen Street (next to the Walper Hotel) since 2005.
Miller Cressman noted that commercial rents had quadrupled in downtown Kitchener in those 16 years.
When the pandemic hit, she said paying rent for the large, former studio space meant the business was “hemorrhaging” money each month.
“I think a lot of businesses will be downsizing and having to make do with less space. I feel really hopeful about the change. Even though it’s been a ton of work, I feel a greater sense of freedom now that we own our own studio. Now we can put down the kind of roots that we want to have in the community. It’s really a rare gem of a spot,” Miller Cressman said.
The studio’s relaunch also provides the business with the chance to remove financial barriers for students by offering sliding-scale prices for all classes.
“This is a chance for us to really create a place that’s in line with our social values,” Miller Cressman said, adding that she has felt greatly supported by the studio’s many students throughout the relaunch.
“We felt bolstered by the support of our students and our community. It’s what gave us the courage to take the leap.”
Queen Street Yoga moving and relaunching as The Branches