Coronavirus: Canadian gym owners eye reopening plan amid increased financial pressure

For many gyms across Canada, the weight is beginning to be too much to bear.Whyte Fitness in Markham, Ont., was known as an ‘iconic’ place and a staple in the community before it was forced to shutter during the COVID-19 pandemic.“It’s tough,” said Matt DiPasquale, who had been going to the popular gym for a decade.“It’s got some character; it’s a part of the Markham landscape. That’s just how it’s always been.”The building was completely gutted by early May, without a single piece of fitness equipment remaining inside.“It’s hard on the people who own gym, people who are staff at the gym. That’s their livelihood and their passion that they can no longer pursue.”

READ MORE: Don’t sweat it: Gyms are relatively safe during coronavirus outbreak, experts say

One of Canada’s biggest fitness chains, Good Life Fitness, released a recommended game plan to open its 300 locations across the country before it’s too late for its workout facilities.

The strategy would see its centres take on half-measures, such as allowing a limited number of people inside its gyms during allotted times.

“Some options we are exploring include limiting club capacity, blocking or deactivating some equipment to increase physical distancing, renewing our focus on extensive cleaning,” said Good Life spokesperson Adam Roberts.He adds that there isn’t a date set to begin implementing the half-measured approach, but that the fitness giant is waiting for health authorities to give the green light.

READ MORE: GoodLife Fitness closes all locations Canada-wide in response to novel coronavirus spread

Other smaller, independently-owned fitness centres have a much more daunting task in trying to wait out the mandatory closures.

Elle Fitness and Social, a fitness studio for women, has been banking on donations to continue providing one-hour classes on Instagram Live.

“We wanted to make our classes accessible for our clients,” said owner Michelle Epstein. “Many of them have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

“We started a GoFundMe, we’ve reached out to our community and said, ‘We want to open our doors to you when this is over, so after every class could you offer a small donations just to help keep us going?’”

Epstein said the donations have been enough to cover one month’s rent so far, but there’s no guarantee it’ll cover all other costs moving forward.

“We have no idea what the future holds, we’re really are in a holding pattern right now — taking it month month by depending on the kindness of our community and clients to help get us through this.”

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Fuel Training Club has three locations in Toronto and has been getting by through offering online classes to paying customers.A drop-in fee is $15 and there’s been a surge in clients, with each live training session viewed by an average of 50 people.“Our classes were capped in studio… between 12-16 people per class,” said owner Greg Hetherington.“Now we’re able to host an unlimited number of people, potentially, so compared to our in-class, we’ve had a dramatic increase [online].”But even then, Hetherington says the classes won’t be enough to keep their heads above water much longer.“We still have three rents we need to pay for three locations,” Hetherington said, “and at the current number of people participating at the current cost per class, it just wouldn’t be feasible to be operating as a business.”

Hetherington said he welcomes the half-measured approach suggested by Good Life, which would see some of their classes continued online — but others would take place in studio with physical distancing, thorough cleaning of equipment and more.

“If masks are something that we also encourage people to wear them, or if it’s taking your temperature before you come to the gym-type measure, I think there are a lot of question marks.”

Centre Ring, a boxing studio in Toronto, is even more desperate for the facilities to begin reopening — since owner Wayne Bourque said he doesn’t have the capabilities to take his sessions to social media and video conferencing.

“Digital platform is a whole different new thing, we just stick to what we know the best,” said Bourque. “But I cant go on too much longer.”

Saba Hassan, a condo tenant in Vancouver, said her building’s gym has already taken on those half-measures, allowing building residents to use the gym in half-hour time slots — as long as people signed up beforehand.

“We have a signup sheet for the week and you sign up for 30-minute slots at a time for one household at a time,” said Hassan.

She adds that there’s some trust involved in making sure others have cleaned up the equipment after they left the gym, but she also does her due diligence in cleaning the machine she’s about to use.

“I’m wiping it before, so I know it’s clean before I use it,” she said.

“I’m not taking on risks. It doesn’t hurt, it takes a few extra minutes to wipe it down before.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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