Fitness boutiques rally province to reopen

Sherwood Park's InCentre Pilates has experienced an 80 per cent decrease in memberships due to COVID-19 closures. A petition has gathered more than 18,500 signatures asking the province to allow small fitness boutiques to be included in the Phase 2 relaunch, instead of Phase 3. Photo Supplied jpg, SP

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Owners of small boutique fitness studios, as well as their clients, are eager to return and get their fitness on before the Phase 3 relaunch.

A few provincial petitions have been circulating within Alberta’s fitness industry, asking the UCP government to shift the reopening of smaller gyms and fitness studios in the Phase 2 relaunch, instead of its current placement in Phase 3. One such petition on, created by Alberta Boutique Studio Alliance, addressed to Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta Health Services, has gathered more than 18,500 signatures, as of May 28. Petition organizer, Nathan Amor, owner of F45 gym in Calgary, outlined smaller, boutique fitness studios will be able to ensure smaller class sizes with physical distancing and increasing cleaning measures. He said the province should “reconsider lumping all gyms together” and many local fitness studios agree.

“Our equipment is our business. That’s what our clients want. And it’s sitting there, empty,” said Cindy Madsen, owner of InCentre Pilates since 2013.

Since April, classes have been offered online, which isn’t ideal for the equipment-based pilates studio. Madsen said about 98 per cent of her businesses is linked with that equipment and can’t be replicated virtually, so there are eight classes weekly. Because of that, there has been an 80 per cent decrease in memberships.

“I have no idea what Dr. Deena Hinshaw is going to do, which is scary. We can’t plan. I didn’t think they were going to shut us down. We voluntarily shut down on the same day the province ended up shutting down everyone two hours later. I see so many people not following the rules and that scares me that they’ll lock it down again.”

Recently, a Lethbridge martial arts centre owner, Lee Mein said he was going to resume classes on June 1, despite provincial health orders, but he walked that decision back on Thursday. Businesses who violate restrictions could face fines upwards of $500,000.

“I’ve had lots of people ask, saying ‘Hey can we do some secret pilates? What if we come really early?’ and I say I’d love nothing more than to do that, but I can’t risk that. If something ever happened, my insurance would be void and I would be liable if there was an outbreak that we were connected to. That’s a really scary thing to think about even when we are allowed,” said Madsen, adding she understands business owners’ financial frustrations.

Cindy Madsen, owner of InCentre Pilates, said she’s lost ten of thousands of dollars during the COVID-19 closures. Despite offering online classes, the studio’s membership has dropped by 80 per cent. Photo Supplied jpg, SP

In preparation for the relaunch, whenever it comes, in addition to buying cleaning supplies and PPE, new vinyl reformer straps were ordered to replace the original material type to make it easier to clean and disinfect in between clients.

Luckily, due to recent changes to allow contractors to qualify for the $40,000 Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), which Madsen hailed as “a buffer”, and InCentre Pilates’ landlord agreed to participate in the commercial rent relief program. Regardless, she believes it’s going to take years to financially recover having lost tens of thousands of dollars since the shutdown.

“It just makes me stressed out,” Madsen said. “This is not why I went into business.”

COVID-19 business temporary closures: “Absolute chaos”

Chantelle Beasley, owns Sherwood Park’s Aradia Fitness, along with four other locations across the Capital Region. Calling the past two months “absolute chaos”, it’s estimated her business has lost at least $60,000 in revenue a month from a drop in clients from 220 to 70 members and reduced rates because of online Zoom and Facebook Live classes. Beasley said about 80 per cent of members are ready to return.

“I know people say businesses need to get creative about how they bring in income, but a pole dancing studio can only do so much,” Beasley noted. “Our online members are dropping like flies now, it’s getting a lot nicer out so people don’t want to stay in their basement doing online Zoom classes.”

Chantelle Beasley, owns Sherwood Park’s Aradia Fitness, along with four other locations across the Capital Region. Calling the past two months “absolute chaos”, she estimated her business has lost at least $60,000 in revenue a month. Photo Supplied jpg, SP

While some students have their own poles at home, the studio offers virtual classes without poles such as conditioning workout, HIIT, flexibility, dance, and chair dancing.

She’s floored places such as movie theatres, art theatres, and schools are allowed to open in Phase 2, but not small gyms. Aradia Fitness’ reopening plans include reduced class sizes, increasing pole spacing to nine feet, no change room access, providing online payments, not allowing sick people to attend, and spacing classes apart by 30 minutes to ensure deep cleaning in between clients and making sure no one hangs out before or after classes. Any high-level technical classes will be suspended.

While she’s on the hunt for more Lysol wipes, Beasley has been gathering gloves and $500 worth of hand sanitizer to welcome back clients when the time comes. She doesn’t plan on passing on a surcharge for those supplies.

“It’s crazy to think movie theatres can reopen where I’m to the point I’m willing to eat off the floor of my studio because it’s so clean,” she said.

She also has a CEBA $40K loan, but said it’s unfair there has been no further support provided since Phase 3 businesses are treated the same as Phase 1 but have to remain closed for a longer period of time. When she and her employees have been able to get the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the business is going further and further into the red.

“It’s scary because I have so many personal guaranteed loans in the business. If I shut down, I will be personally liable for that and I’ll have to sell my house, the house that my daughter was born in. All of it is so traumatic. It also affects the 60 people I employ, they’ll be unemployed. It’s just a vicious cycle,” she said. “I’ve even started applying for full-time jobs so I can dump that money back into the business to keep it alive.”

CrossFit Sherwood Park: “Our spaces are totally controlled”

Like everyone else in the fitness sector, CrossFit Sherwood Park switched to virtual classes during the initial shutdown but is slowly starting in-person outdoor classes in the parking lot at Sioux Road with outdoor gathering restrictions being lifted to a max of 50. Owner, Glenn Sorokan noted everyone is itching to get back and there are constant waitlists for the outdoor classes.

“Our spaces are totally controlled. We limit the number of people coming in at any given time, which is the benefit of smaller gyms,” Sorokan said, detailing his support for the petition.

CrossFit Sherwood Park started offering outdoor classes, following outside gatherings of 50 people or more was recently announced. The local box experienced a 20 per cent decline in membership during the pandemic. Photo Supplied jpg, SP

Reduced rates have been offered to unemployed clients, but the box has only seen a 20 per cent drop in members. That said, Sorokan said there are only so many burpees that people are willing to do at home. He acknowledges it could be much worse, but his landlord agreed to defer rent for a few months and he plans on applying again for the CEBA since contractors are now included.

Once reopened, CrossFit Sherwood Park plans to have classes sizes of 10 people, provide individual equipment and cleaning supplies per client, spacing classes apart, thermal thermometer checks, having online payments, increasing cleaning between classes, and daily questionnaires and waivers. Increased outdoor classes will become the norm.

“I don’t know what else we could do. As long as the government knows that we’re putting a good effort into it,” he said, adding he welcomes AHS to tour is facility. “I can show them that the risk is less than minimal. We’re doing everything we can to reduce contact between people. Mental health, physical health, and being active and getting sunshine is the best course of action to fight this thing. Cooping everyone up inside is the worse thing, but that’s my opinion.”

All three local business owners argue smaller studios provide a sense of community to its clients, offering a second family for many. The pandemic has already permanently closed some studios, such as the Park’s Spin Unity on April 20, and there are other studios across the Edmonton region that do not plan to resign their leases and shut their doors.

“It’s hard. These businesses have clientele who love them. When I saw that, that just breaks my heart,” noted Madsen.

MLA Glubish: Province continues to follow the lead of health experts

On Wednesday, Hinshaw said AHS is considering moving up the previous June 19 date of the Phase 2 relaunch based on the positive case data after Phase 1. In a Facebook Live video, she also mentioned she may consider yoga and pilates studios differently as they have a lower risk factor in relation to the number of air particles expelled.

All three businesses have reached out to local MLAs to raise their concerns. Strathcona-Sherwood Park Nate Glubish told The News he understands businesses are eager to return to an increased sense of normalcy and the discrepancies of what’s allowed in each phase of the province’s relaunch strategy. The local MLA said the government will continue to discuss the relaunch timing but will follow Hinshaw’s direction.

“It’s important to remember that we’ve had the lightest touch in the country, enabling 85 per cent of businesses to remain open, all while having the best outcomes in the country. This puts us in a position to reopen our economy faster than other jurisdictions while keeping the safety of Albertans front of mind,” Glubish stated.