Downtown Turlock has seen several longtime tenants leave its core in the past year, but with their departure comes new beginnings for other local businesses — including one that’s aiming to put some pep in Main Street’s step. 

Alegria Performing Arts Academy will open a new downtown dance studio inside of the former Dean’s Floral location in the coming weeks, owner Gabrielle Forrest said. Alegria, which means “happiness” in Portuguese, first opened in 2014 and has offered dance classes in the Scandia Village shopping center since 2017. 

While some may think staying put during a global pandemic would be the safest route when it comes to managing a business, Forrest decided to take a chance when she saw a vacant space in Turlock’s downtown core.

“In this pandemic, you have to do something in order to keep moving forward. We’ve grown as much as we can grow in the location we’re at now, especially with current events…It’s been great being part of the downtown community and we didn’t want to move away from that,” Forrest said. “It was important to me in making a move like this that we were in a visible, central location and when this opportunity arose, I just felt like it was time to take a leap of faith. That’s really what this whole thing comes down to.”

The new space will provide Forrest and her students with more space than Alegria’s previous location, making socially-distanced practice sessions easier to host. Since receiving the go-ahead from the City to open in June, Forrest has increased sanitation measures and enforced COVID-friendly rules complete with social distancing stickers on the ballroom floor.

While the pandemic has made her job more difficult, it also provided funding opportunities which have made the new move possible. Alegria was one of 165 businesses selected by the City of Turlock to receive aid through the Small Business Relief Grant Program, which ended up being just enough for the down payment on the studio’s new location. 

“It seemed like now was a good time to make the move because hopefully, COVID isn’t going to be around forever. And, because of COVID, some opportunities arose that wouldn’t have arisen otherwise,” Forrest said. “Spaces on Main Street don’t come up very often…It just worked out perfectly and was the perfect amount to get my foot in the door.”

Forrest hopes that the space’s proximity to other popular downtown destinations will provide not only new experiences for her existing students, but for those who have never attended a class as well. She imagines parents dropping off their children for practice, grabbing a cup of coffee at La Mo Cafe next door and watching their little ones dance through the space’s large front windows. She also envisions a new date night option for couples, who will be able to attend a dance lesson then dine at one of the nearby restaurants. 

When the pandemic dies down, Forrest also plans on using the new location as a place for pop-up shops, bridal showers and more. There are still some improvements to be made in the space, which is part of the 100-year-old Masonic Building, but Forrest expects the new studio to be open in late February at the earliest. In addition to dance classes, the studio offers gymnastic and tumbling lessons with more performance options on the way. 

For other business owners considering making a change during these uncertain times, she offered a word of advice.

“I’ve just taken the jump every time I’ve had the opportunity with my business. It’s been a rough ride, and as a business owner you just have to be willing to push yourself to the next level in order to see what you’re capable of,” Forrest said. “We’re taking a leap of faith that we’ll be able to keep giving back to our community and our community will give back to us. If you’re just in business to make money, it’s not going to work out. You have to be community-driven in one way or another and have an attitude of service.”

Type of business: Dance and performing arts studio

Location: 320 E. Main St. in Turlock

Hours: Private lessons and weekly dance classes

Contact information: 925-980-5683

Specialty: Safe, socially-distanced dance instruction