One year later, the weather in Middle Tennessee in early March remains turbulent, and the yearlong siege of a global pandemic marches on, still threatening the survival of businesses and people alike.
Nashville businesses and residents devastated by the March 2-3, 2020, tornado outbreak, and those beyond the city, had two weeks to decide whether to rebuild, relocate or move on before the U.S. lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak closed their doors indefinitely.
Local business owners created a new normal in the face of the rebuild and pandemic, remaining flexible as the environment changed or failed to change at all.
The Basement East (BEast) on Woodland Street in East Nashville was among several businesses and structures in the path of the EF-3 tornado that cut through Nashville, starting at John C. Tune Airport in the west, across Monroe and Jefferson streets and North Nashville-Germantown, over the river into East Nashville and into Donelson, Hermitage and Wilson County.
Twenty-five people were killed in the series of tornadoes that swept over Tennessee.
Some locations still look like the day after. The offices behind CrossFit Hermitage gym off Central Pike in Donelson appear untouched in the tornado’s wake, with exposed insulation and twisted metal marking the scene. Several other businesses off Central Pike, just down the road from Donelson Christian Academy, were leveled or sustained significant damage but have reopened, relocated or continue on with tarpaulin patches covering gaping holes in metal structures.
Those in the path lost nearly all their belongings along with the buildings. Things that could be salvaged adorn new walls — or, in the case of the BEast, continue to stand — and serve as reminders of what used to be.
Magnitude 10.0 Gymnastics also operated on Central Pike and took a direct hit that wiped out 90% of the structure. The gym relocated and reopened Aug. 3 less than a mile up and across the road. Heather Hammond, a former owner who continues to coach, explained the gym had to make something new somewhere else.
“You have to move on. You don’t have a choice,” Hammond said. “It’ll never be like it was before the tornado.
“So really the only thing we took from the old facility were the memories."
The BEast plans to welcome back the public in a nearly new building in March. A tentative open house is set for the one-year anniversary on March 3. The first live music performance — Colter Wall and the Scary Prairie Boys "Live in Front of Nobody" — is scheduled for March 11.
When patrons return, they’ll walk through the same front facade, which survived the damage along with the “I Believe in Nashville” mural at the corner facing downtown Nashville.
CrossFit Hermitage, which took a direct hit from the tornado, saved its Personal Record/Best bell that customers ring when they reach a new milestone in physical training and an American flag that hung in the old building. The gym relocated to a new space one building over and reopened at the end of June. Customers still use the same parking lot.
“So, our address is one digit different, but for our members it’s the same drive,” owner Brandi Forbes said.
Magnitude 10.0 carved out a memorial niche in its new gym, which doubled its space for activities. Photos of the old gym and the tornado aftermath adorn one wall, the gym door from the old building another. That door illustrates how opportunity can be a good thing in the face of challenges, Hammond noted.
“In gymnastics you teach the kids, if you fall off the balance beam, you get back up. And that was our job: We got knocked down, we had to get back up,” Hammond said.
Hammond and gym owner Maggie Nelson were dealing with the whirlwind of considering a rebuild, arranging insurance assessments and addressing a master plan that called for more space when the country locked down two weeks later. The shutdown actually gave the gym’s matriarchs a chance to slow down and catch their breath.
Any doubt that the gym would reopen was eclipsed by the students’ need for stability in a scary new world, Hammond recalled. They showed up in the days after not just to clean up and salvage, but to reminisce and embrace each other.
“It was never a question of not reopening. … You always knew,” Hammond said. “(The kids) were looking up to us to say, ‘Hey, are we going to be OK?’ We had to tell them we’d be OK even though at that point we weren’t 100% sure that we would be OK. … It was still too raw for definitive answers.”
Forbes, Nelson and Hammond take pride in the cleanliness and hygiene standards established at the gyms before the pandemic, so reopening in the midst of the crisis didn’t change their practices. Hammond noted face masks have been the only difference.
An outpouring of community support helped the gyms get moving while balancing the cleanup and plans for the future. Forbes recalled receiving a postcard with condolences and encouragement from a gym owner in France whom she’d never met as well as fellow gym owners offering space to take on clients while she found a new location. Hammond experienced the same graciousness from local gym owners, who also helped evaluate what could be salvaged from the old gym.
“You’ve got a two-week window there where there was nothing but just feeling all kinds of love from our members, our community and then the bigger CrossFit community,” Forbes said.
Magnitude 10.0 remained engaged with its students with virtual workouts before finding its new space. CrossFit Hermitage also hosted virtual training, along with game nights via Zoom, to keep clients engaged. That engagement was critical in navigating a simultaneous rebuild-relocation and/or reopening in the wake of the tornado and pandemic, especially communication with customers.
“You don’t want anyone to guess what’s going on because their version of it is always worse than what’s really happening,” Forbes said. “You might want to just bury your head in the sand and go to bed and deal with it tomorrow, but you really can’t.
“You need to do some videos and reach out to people and send your emails and update your website and say, 'This is what happened, this is what we’re dealing with, these are the only answers we have, but here’s our game plan that we’re trying to work on,' ” she said, “especially if you’re a service-based business, and if you have those relationships with your people, you just need to keep those relationships strong.”
Whether or not it has the answers to every question, Magnitude 10.0 has created a new normal for its students, Hammond said.
“When you just see the kids and see every day gets a little better for them, because the world is becoming more normal, that’s my memory," she said.