Pinched by pandemic, couple patch portfolio

David and Cyndie Chinn, owners of LA East in Beckley.(Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

When Covid-19 threw a curveball to Dave and Cyndie Chinn of Beckley, the couple responded by branching out into an entirely new direction – real estate.

The couple moved from southern Ohio in 1995 so that Dave could work in sales at Big Sandy Super Store in Beckley. They loved the area and decided to settle in Beckley and to open L.A. East Fitness, a popular private fitness club on Appalachian Drive. They also opened Healthy Eatz, a food service that offers fully prepared, gluten-free and nonprocessed healthy meals.

“This is home now,” Dave said.

For 20 years, the couple have owned and operated L.A. East Fitness, which David says is a true gym – not a recreation center or a rehabilitation center.

Things were going smoothly – until 2020 and the pandemic.

“It’s everything everybody’s been going through in 2020,” Dave said on Wednesday.

In March, following the statewide shutdown due to Covid-19, the gym and the restaurant were both forced to close.

The couple relied partly on Cyndie’s income as a physical therapy assistant in the home health field. Cyndie had worked for 20 years in the medical field, spending 14 with the same company. Around two years ago, she took a job at another company. The pay was higher, and two of her kids had college coming up, so the plan seemed like a good one.

“Covid hit,” said Cyndie. “I had been with them for two years.

“So, me and another therapist with the lowest seniority lost our jobs,” she explained. “I was devastated.

“I lost (the job) on a Friday,” she said. “Here Monday came, and I was lost.”

Covid was a game-changer, noted Dave.

“Who would’ve ever thought health care workers would get laid off?” he said. “It was like, ‘Wow, she’s lost her job, and they’ve just closed our gym down for seven weeks, and my son, who lives with us, lost his job.’”

The gym did not qualify for federal CARES Act funding.

“We’ve tried different avenues of trying to get assistance,” he said. “We didn’t qualify.”

The gym eventually re-opened on May 4, and business was better than ever, said Dave.

But from March 18 to May 4, a transformation happened for Dave and Cyndie.

For starters, Dave learned not to worry. His friend Larry Steele gave him a Bible with his name on it, and Dave was drawn to Jesus’ words in Matthew about trusting God.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” he read.

“I worried all the time,” Dave said. “Worried, worried, worried.

“When you worry, you’re against God. You’re not trusting God,” he explained. “I said, ‘I’m not going to worry anymore.’

“Everybody’s going through the same thing as me.

“When I put it in God’s hands, that’s basically when everything turned around.”

For her part, Cyndie said the time she was out of work gave her more opportunities to do school work with her children and to spend time with the family.

Dave, a seasoned salesman, was looking for a new job to start at 50.

“Dave does a great job, and he has the gym, and he has the restaurant,” said Cyndie, who is 47. “But him coming from his retail background and managing these multi-million-dollar companies to a hometown gym and a restaurant was a big transition for him.

“The past few years, I just thought he had so much talent, and we should utilize it a little better.”

The gym reopened on May 4, and Dave said that business has never been better. Cyndie is now back with her old company and again working in home health.

But the Covid-19 experience had nudged the couple into being open to something new together. That’s when Cyndie’s friend suggested that Dave and Cyndie would be dynamite in real estate.

“It was like a light bulb went off,” said Cyndie. “I never saw me in that role, but that’s perfect.

“When we got home that night, I told (Dave) about the idea, and he absolutely loved it.”

Dave was adamant that he and Cyndie would sell real estate as a team. They went through the Spruce School of Real Estate online classes together, and they studied together. Dave approached real estate brokers Jerry and Kathy Zaferatos of Zaferatos Real Estate to make sure that he and Cyndie could work as a team with them.

“Jerry and Kathy are friends of ours,” he said. “They’re married.

“I just don’t think there’s any two better people to learn from, that’s still active in the community,” he said. “These two taught (real estate) school.

“I feel so privileged being with Kathy and Jerry,” said Dave. “I feel like they’re the king of real estate.”

Dave and Cyndie were licensed together and recently sold two properties at Flat Top Lake. They said they are on a journey of learning about real estate and being able to provide top notch service to their clients.

The experience is different from home health and fitness. Dave said it is also different from his old career of selling furniture for Big Sandy.

“I love to sell,” said Dave. “I’ve been in sales all my life.

“That’s your biggest purchase in your life, is your home,” he said. “That’s gratifying that we’re helping people do that.”

For other business owners and professionals whose lives have been upended by Covid-19, Cyndie offered advice.

“I completely understand where they’re coming from – the devastation,” she said. “Being in the medical field for 28 years, and you lose your job during Covid?” she said, referring to her own situation. “The wheels start spinning, and you think, ‘I need a backup plan.’

“When things get rough, you think ahead, and you just have something to fall back on.”

Dave and Cyndie are with Zaferatos Real Estate.

Those who want to learn more may call Dave and Cyndie at 304-575-0838.

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