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Without grants, 40-year Claremont business must close

After 40 years teaching Claremont how to sing and dance, Moultrie Academy is closing its studio at the Old School House, but the show will go on.

Like many businesses that were declared “non-essential,” Moultrie Academy was forced to cease in-person classes back in March. Since then, owner Carly Moultrie has tried to keep the doors open with the income from private online lessons, but the roughly $6,000 per month rent on her studio was too much.

Ms. Moultrie made every effort to get financial assistance. She did not qualify for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program because the teachers she hires are independent contractors.

She was denied a grant under the city of Claremont’s small business grant program because her business is in the performing arts. Other sources of grants also led to dead ends.

“I made sure when Claremont had its grant program that I was one of the first to apply, and they actually tried to get the maximum amount of money for us, but we did not fit the criteria. And what bothered me the most was that fitness centers were eligible. We teach 24 classes a week and 18 are dance, which is fitness. That money would have at least kept us from having to move out,” Ms. Moultrie said.

Assistant City Manager Chris Paulson said the city’s small business grant program focused on businesses that were hit hardest by the pandemic, but also had to operate within the parameters set by Housing and Urban Development, which favors those that hire hourly wage earners and moderate- or low-income employees. The guidelines omit certain professional services, home businesses, schools, academies and the arts.

Moultrie Academy was determined to be a dance, music or performing arts business by the community development block grant consultant who was hired to ensure that all city grants would survive federal audit of the program.

“As of right now, we have been closed for five-and-a-half months. Since we teach group classes and we teach people ages three to 83, it would be impossible for us to continue until we are allowed to open up. Since half of what we do is singing, that is not allowed at all,” Ms. Moultrie said during a sometimes emotional conversation with the COURIER on Tuesday.

The closure is particularly painful because of all the hard work and money she invested into making the 3,000-square-foot studio perfect for teaching dance and music. The floors have to be specially constructed so the student dancers can avoid injury, and there were special rooms for private music lessons.

Ms. Moultrie broke the news to her many friends along with students and their families through an August 19 post on her personal Facebook page, which received more than 100 responses.

“It has taken me a few days to sort out the best way to share some very upsetting news. Moultrie Academy has lost its home at the Old School House. I’m very sorry that this post will be reaching many of our families without any warning. As we must be out by August 31st, it will soon become obvious that we are leaving and I needed to let everyone know,” Ms. Moultrie wrote in the post.

She goes on to express frustration that Moultrie Academy, which has been such an integral part of the community, could not secure monetary help.

“So, a business that has served Claremont since January, 1980—over 40 years; a business owned by women who have taught thousands and thousands AND thousands of residents ages 3 to 83; a business that has provided entertainment and brought hundreds of people to every major Claremont event doesn’t deserve help to continue to exist?” she wrote.

In spite of her disappointment at not receiving grant money, Ms. Moultrie emphasized that she is genuinely happy for all the local businesses that did receive help and acknowledged that many people are struggling in the current economy.

Among the many people who offered their heartfelt sadness at hearing the news was Jennifer Miller, whose daughter had been a student.

“My daughter spent her elementary years at the studio doing what she loves—dancing, singing, and playing music. Her confidence and poise as a performer blossomed at the studio. The studio was a second home to her and both Melissa Moultrie and Carly Moultrie were mother figures who helped enrich her life,” Ms. Miller said.

Longtime theater teacher Krista Elhai shared how Moultrie Academy helped launch her career.

“This is awful news for the community,” Ms. Elhai wrote. “My first job out of college was with the studio and your letter of recommendation is what got me my first high school theatre job. Thirty-six years of kids and parents have you to thank for that. I’ll be the first in line to help you write your next act.”

The academy has had four locations over the years, so moving is not an issue so much as losing the investment in the current location, which was “concrete on the floor, rafters on the ceiling and studs on the walls,” before she renovated the space.

“After things open up again and schools go back to in-person classes, we might just rent space that is already available to teach the students we have. Our vocal groups will go on when singing is allowed again, but we will have to find a space to rent to do our dance classes,” Ms. Moultrie said.

For now, Moultrie Academy will continue to teach private lessons on FaceTime, which has been going quite well. Melissa Moultrie is teaching voice and her son Duncan Stever teaches piano, guitar and drums.

Carly Moultrie says that above all else she will miss the students and their families.

“It’s always been such a happy and wonderful place. It’s hard to let it go,” she said.

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