Amanda Field was two months away from celebrating the one-year anniversary of Republic Aerial Yoga in First Ward.
By early March, the 39-year-old Houstonian had built a solid foundation of clients who followed her from her first location to the new two-room space on Houston Avenue.
She was preparing to offer the business to her investor and become a full-time yoga teacher again. She said she was beginning to feel secure.
Then, the world shut down to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. And she still owed $4,000 a month in rent.
“Immediately I wanted to talk to my neighbors and other businesses on the property. I needed more information to make better decisions, but it wasn’t there,” Field said. “So I started cleaning the heck out of the studio, put all nonessential equipment outside, shut down my boutique, had my artists come and pick their art up. I saw a few shops on Washington Avenue boarding up their windows. Would I have to board up my windows, too?”
Field is one of several local gym owners in Houston who felt they had nowhere to turn when they were forced to close their doors in late March. She applied for Paycheck Protection Program loans and Harris County small business grants and said she was denied by all.
Christopher Boykins, owner of Glory Fitness on Ashford Drive, was also denied when he applied for various loans to help him get through the forced closure of his 15-year-old business that specializes in loud, high-energy group classes and spin sessions.
His biggest problem with shutting the gym’s doors is not seeing his longtime clients. He has had some members working out with him since 2001 — they’re typically the early birds that come in at 6 a.m.
But not everything has been a negative.
“I’ve been doing this 19 years, nonstop, even holidays,” Boykins said. “I’m an ex-athlete — I went from playing college football straight to the gym. So this is the first time I’ve had to reevaluate how everything was going and decide to make some changes.”
Gov. Greg Abbott announced the economic reopening in phases; in the first phase, which began on May 1, he included restaurants, movie theaters, retailers and malls.
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On Tuesday, Abbott announced that gyms can reopen as early as May 18. Requirements include 25 percent capacity inside the gym buildings and strict social distancing; showers and lockerrooms must be remain closed; all exercise equpiment must be disinfected after each use; all customers must wear gloves that cover their whole hands and fingers.
If a person brings in outside equipment, like a yoga mat, it must be disinfected before and after it’s used. If there are outdoor facilities, social distancing measures must be promoted. Everyone is advised to wear a face mask if possible.
Field had decisions to make but no time to make them. She said her members are dedicated to the practice of aerial yoga, a form that is difficult to replicate at home because of the equipment it requires.
Certain members wanted to cancel their memberships to save money wherever they could, she said. Others expected her to livestream classes on social media. All the while, she had bills piling up.
A Facebook fundraiser yielded $1,560 — not even close to her $5,000 goal. As memberships were being cancelled or frozen, Field had to figure out another way to make money.
So, she wrote a résumé for the first time in 14 years and began working at her brother’s classic car shop. And she’s moved in with another brother and conducts livestream yoga sessions from the backyard.
“It made me really grateful for all of the time I have been able to do what I’m doing,” Field said. “When I looked at my résumé, I thought I should have more skills on there. But my skills are what I’ve done for 14 years. I’m good at yoga, movement and educating people on that.”
More than a gym
Not every Houston gym is in the same shaky situation as Field and Boykins. But they still need help.
Stephen Ives, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Houston, said that while the fitness-related gym services have been temporarily suspended, the Y never shut its doors. The local Y has 25 facilities, plus 200 child care sites and 18 opportunity centers inside apartment complexes. Throughout the pandemic, the nonprofit organization has distributed 2.7 million pounds of food in a partnership with the Houston Food Bank.
The Y’s 12 day care facilities are still operating for essential workers, Ives said, and there has been no interruption in the organization’s work with refugees and women escaping human trafficking.
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“A gym or fitness center is a big piece of what we do — the on-site wellness. But it’s not all of who we are,” Ives said. “As a charitable organization, we have really ramped up philanthropic asks and launched a substantial campaign to help us continue to do this good work, while we wait for the fitness-wellness on-site component to come back into play.”
Most of the Y’s fitness classes are accessible now on Y 360, a virtual platform on YouTube. The service is currently free for all users.
The platform was being developed before the pandemic, Ives said. He had no idea that so many people would want to log on and work out with the Y from their own living rooms.
“What we learned from that is people love the Y brand and the diversity of programming that we offer,” Ives said. “I wouldn’t have imagined prior to this experience that it would be so highly adopted. While people miss in-person connections, we can build strong interpersonal connections.”
The Great Gym Reopen
Republic Aerial Yoga and the YMCA do not have reopen dates at this time.
Field will not speculate when she can reopen until her employees are able to commit to teaching, she said. In the meantime, she plans to reduce the number of spots available in each class and has rules in place for stringent sanitization and social distancing.
She will continue livestreaming classes until she can permanently reopen.
“Through this process, I have fostered and forged tremendous friendships. I feel good to help people and be productive through all of this,” Field said. “In all the streams we do, I have a 15-minute roll call as a check-in for people. We gauge energy levels and make sure everyone is OK. I think it’s a real positive aspect of what’s coming out of this.”
Ives said the Y will wait for more guidelines from public health officials before committing to a reopening date. There are 10 different scenarios that the organization is mapping out to see which will work best in the future.
“People won’t be side by side running on treadmills. There will be more spacing in group exercise classes and in our pools,” Ives said. “We’re adjusting the equipment for social distancing and finalizing protocols for capacity in rooms and facilities.”
Boykins said he will likely reopen Glory Fitness on June 1 to coincide with the new month’s fresh start.
Since shutting down the gym, he has shied away from too many livestream exercise classes. He hosts one Zoom class a week on Sundays, he said.
“I wanted people to miss this gym, and I don’t want to lose the camaraderie, energy or the music,” Boykins said.
“It’s not the same on a laptop,” he said. “On June 1, I will roll out the red carpet and make this one of the best small studio gyms in Houston.”