ALBANY — Fitness centers and exercise studios may not be allowed to open in the fourth and final reopening phase in New York — a blow to an industry that survives largely on the number of members who enter their facilities.
Although some gyms are offering outdoor classes — in parking lots or other locations where participants can workout while staying at least six feet apart — there has been no indication from state economic development officials or Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo about when or how fitness centers could resume operations. That could change suddenly, including with restrictions in place such as requiring clubs to maintain 50% capacity, which is what Illinois is doing as that state enters phase four of it’s five-phase plan on Friday.
But managers and owners of New York fitness clubs said they have received no information from the state on when they may reopen.
“We’ve kind of been in the dark during this whole process,” said Bryan Lupian, a regional manager at Vent Fitness. “We don’t know and nobody is really keeping us informed. We’re just doing our Google searches and following the governor.”
Vent Fitness operates four large clubs in Guilderland, Clifton Park, Latham and Niskayuna, and the staff members not furloughed have spent the past four months preparing for an eventual opening that is expected to include constant sanitizing of equipment and limiting the number of people who can take classes or enter the gym.
The governor’s coronavirus task force is scheduled to release its phase four guidelines late Tuesday, as many regions, including the Capital Region, are poised to move into the final reopening phase in early July. But phase four does not mean everything reopens fully, as concert venues and sporting events — and gyms — are among the industries that may be opened through separate decisions, a person briefed on the matter said.
Lupian said that Vent Fitness has used the closure period to reconfigure its interior layouts, spreading equipment and weight machines at least six feet apart, adding hand sanitizer and wipes throughout the clubs and putting numbers on the floors where classes are given that would ensure members in reserved spaces remain at least six feet apart.
They also anticipated having showers and swimming pools open, albeit they would keep saunas and steam rooms closed.
“We’re expecting to open at 50% capacity in the (training) rooms,” Lupian said, adding the club has instituted a “hands-free” check-in system for members entering and exiting the club, which would also enable employees to control the number of people in the facility at one time.
The fitness industry also has had to adapt to what may be a “new normal,” offering online training sessions and, at Vent, developing an app that enables trainers to work with clients who are training at home.
The fallout of closing gyms for four months was also felt in the retail industry, where shelves holding fitness equipment and weights have been bare for months and sold out quickly when the shutdown began in mid-March.
Travis Gil, who runs Fitness Artist in Clifton Park, said their facility recently began offering outdoor training sessions to a limited number of clients, using parking spaces to ensure everyone stays at least six feet apart. Another group of trainers, in an effort unrelated to Vent Fitness or Fitness Artist, have been offering training classes to dozens of people who gather on Sunday mornings in an empty parking lot near the former Kmart in Clifton Park.
But the outdoor training sessions are not enough to sustain the businesses.
“It’s been a roller coaster of a ride for sure and definitely the lack of guidance is very, very frustrating,” Gil said. “We’re dealing with really our livelihood here and from a business standpoint we’re pretty much making one tenth of what we would normally make. … We have to do something or else we’re not going to have a business. My back is certainly against the wall and my employees are feeling a little distressed.”
Gil noted that as some trainers have turned to outside training — with the understanding that it is allowed and meets the restrictions set by the state — while other gyms have simply opened their doors in defiance but while insisting they meet the criteria because of precautions in place, including spacing equipment or requiring masks.
It’s become a sort of “wild, wild west,” Gil said. “I think people are going to really start rebelling.”
He also said that members are “so done with this” and are eager to resume indoor training and feel comfortable that the precautions in place — staying apart, using hand sanitizer and keeping equipment clean — will not put them at risk.
Gil said he founded Fitness Artist 11 years ago and “my family, they are relying on me to make it work.”