Feeling the Financial Strain of the Coronavirus Closure, Gyms Ready to Reopen

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“There’s a whole feeling that you get when you work out.  It just feels better all over.  I miss that,” said Victor Sargent of Bristol.

Sargent said he’s been a member of the same gym for more than three decades.  Like all gyms in Connecticut, Malibu Fitness in Farmington was forced to close on March 16. 

“Between the two gyms, it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Jack Banks, who also co-owns Powerhouse Gym in Berlin.

Banks said losses from the March 16 coronavirus closure continue to add up and so do expenses. 

“You have to be ready full bore with new protocol that costs way more money with way fewer people allowed in the facility,” he explained

Members will notice the steps the gym has taken when they’re allowed to return to Malibu Fitness in Farmington on June 17.  

“We had to move every single piece of equipment, 62 pieces of equipment,” said Banks.

To be able to reopen under the new state guidelines, owner Jack Banks estimates he spent about ,000 on cleaning supplies and labor at his two gyms.

“We painted, we cleaned, we sanitized, we moved equipment,” he explained.

The business also bulked up on soap dispensers and hand sanitizer, though touchless items are back-ordered.

Banks beefed up the motor in a large fan inserted into a wall of the gym, which will help with the heavy lifting.  Banks said it will suck up 20,000 cubic feet of air per minute, exchanging it every half hour.

“There two different ways to walk in and out, there’s no water fountain anymore,” Banks also noted.

Showers are off-limits, too.  However, the guideline expected to get the most attention is that fitness facilities must require members to wear masks if they’re less than 12 feet apart.

“What’s wrong with seven feet, eight feet, nine feet, like what makes it the 12 feet that makes it the magic number that you’re not going to give me the virus?” asked Sargent.

“I’d prefer not to but I will wear it.  I’ll follow the rules just so there’s no chance of anything happening like this again,” said Tom Roark of Burlington.

Roark added that he has no concerns returning to the gym.

“Even with the masks we’re a foot apart in the grocery store when you’re passing somebody,” he pointed out. “Just standing near the-looking for a steak- I have people six inches over my shoulder.”

For small business owners like Banks, the past 90 days have been filled with unknowns.

“You don’t know how many people are going to come back. You don't know how you're going to pay your utility bills. You don't know how many employees are going to come back, you don’t know how many members are going to get out of the habit of coming to a facility and starting working out at home, in the meantime the bills don’t stop,” he said.

Some of those questions have been answered.  His 50 employees are all set to return. 

“I definitely think the mask thing is going to be difficult, but we just have to remind people that they have to stay 12 feet apart,” said Krista Shaw, an assistant Manager at Powerhouse Gym.

He said only five of the 1,500 members in Farmington asked for their money back.  A handful more are postponing their membership.  He said the numbers are similar at his Berlin location.

However, Banks worries about the 50% capacity limit set by the state.

“We do have a concern about a possible avalanche of cancelations if we people walk in for yoga and they’re turned away,’’ he said, pointed out that only four people can fit in the room used for yoga without wearing a mask.

It’s a potential problem for a business that relies on tight margins to turn a profit.

“We’re counting on the fact that things are going to get back to normal,” he said.

In the meantime, Banks will have to continue to find ways to stretch the business’s bottom line.

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