Small boutique gyms are fighting to survive the pandemic and stay open

The Today Show had a brief segment about small boutique gyms around the country, but particularly in NY, where they’re banding together to lobby Mayor de Blasio to include them in the fitness facilities allowed to reopen at this time. Small independently owned gyms are particularly vulnerable to the shutdown and to the loss in income. They’re also physically smaller and typically more dangerous than large gyms. Although many are now offering virtual workouts, it’s often not enough income to make up for the difference in client numbers. Here’s a partial transcript from that clip and you can see it below.

A quarter of all gyms could close permanently by the end of the year if they don’t get government aid.

But it’s the owners of small, independent gyms that are suffering the most. For Kwanua Robinson opening her own gym three years ago was a passion project.

“It’s been a lifelong dream. Having it all snatched away has been really painful.”

Business had been booming at her personal training gym, power play sf, until she was forced to close because of coronavirus.

Now her gym has gone virtual and membership is down 65%.

“We are struggling. Struggling to maintain our staff, struggling to get clients back in, and maintain the business.”

Now gym owners big and small are fighting back, challenging government restrictions.

Amanda Freeman, who founded pilates chain SLT is heading up a group called the boutique fitness alliance. They’re lobbying for smaller
fitness studios to reopen in New York City alongside traditional open format gyms.

“You’ve already come together with your competitors to lobby for change. What are you doing?”

“We realized we weren’t united and we didn’t have representation. And the restrictions that are being put on us are impossible to comply with and still have a successful business, so we decided that we were stronger together.”

Similar groups are forming across the country. She joined her local chapter too.

“We’ve just been fighting to keep going.”

[in studio commentary] “You really feel for those small studios, but not everybody is struggling right now. The at-home fitness companies seem to be doing pretty well…”

These types of products, Peloton, for example, their revenues are up 172% since this began and it’s not just those companies. Apple is coming out with its own fitness platform.

“Even though the big gyms have been open for about a month, those small fitness studios, the ones we’re talking about right now, they are struggling… Amanda Freeman just wrote an op-ed here in New York urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to let these small studios open or they’ll be gone forever.”

[From The Today Show via Youtube]

Here’s a link to the op-ed that Freeman wrote in the NY Post requesting Mayor de Blasio let the small studios open. She promises “we can and would require masks and social distance [and] limit equipment sharing.”

Fast Company has a new article with quotes from CEOs of large fitness companies like Orange Theory, Peloton and Barry’s. (Tracy Anderson is also quoted, and brags about the fact that her live class was “cheaper” at $50.) They mostly say that it was tough at the beginning of the pandemic but that they’ll survive. Peloton, which has always been virtual, is thriving. So many large fitness companies have filed for bankruptcy though like Golds, 24 Hour Fitness and Flywheel Sports.

I haven’t been inside a gym since early March. Before shutdown I belonged to two gyms, my local YMCA and a small boutique gym that has spinning and specialty classes like TRX. I really reshaped my body by going to that gym, but it was expensive and you pay per class. They closed at the very last minute, only when it was mandated, and they opened as soon as possible after. Their virtual classes weren’t cheaper In-person classes classes aren’t mask-required and are limited capacity but still held in very small rooms. (The gyms mentioned in this Today segment seem to be safer judging by their Instagrams, but it’s hard to tell.) Due to this I made the decision to workout through YouTube. I understand that times are tough now for everyone, but to me it’s not worth the risk. I check their Instagram occasionally and their spin classes are still held in a small closed room and maskless, although the bikes are farther apart with less people are there. We just heard about a spin class in Hamilton, Ontario that turned into a superspreader event despite the fact that the bikes were distanced.

While I feel for these gym owners and want them to remain in business, it’s just too risky for me to go back an indoor gym at this time, especially if masks are not required. I wish the US government cared more about small business owners and was giving bailouts to more industries like this. We’re losing so many businesses that were part of our daily lives and culture like restaurants, theaters and gyms. Right now I’m just focused on getting through the election but we’ve lost so much through willful misconduct and it hurts to think about it.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

28 Responses to “Small boutique gyms are fighting to survive the pandemic and stay open”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Mika says:

    It’s honestly so sketchy that gyms were allowed to reopen at all. Breathing heavily in spaces without windows is just a disaster waiting to happen.

    • BlueSky says:

      I haven’t been back to the gym since March. My gym reopened in May and limited the class sizes. My gym uses the Les Mills program. When they closed initially, members were offered a 60 day complimentary membership to Les Mills on demand and a discount of $9.99 a month after that period. I’ve been doing that ever since. I froze my gym membership for the rest of the year. A fellow member texted me last month to tell me a lot of the regular members have not been back. I hope they are able to stay open because I do miss it. Right now, I’m not comfortable at all about going.

  2. Stef says:

    I feel terrible for the small boutique gyms in Vancouver but it’s just not worth the risk. The spin gym in Hamilton, Ontario caused 72 people to contract COVID because it’s small, the fans re-circulate the sweaty air, and people expel a lot of airborne fluids when they work our hard.

    I went back to my large gym, Club 16 (Trevor Linden) once in August and still didn’t feel comfortable. I’ve been working out at home also.

    Would love for people to share their favourite YouTube exercise videos! I recently started doing Thai Bo again, it’s fun!

    • Lola Coasters says:

      I tried a barre class online after watching a Monica Church video on YouTube and loved it. It kicked my ass, but was a lot of fun. Haven’t done it since…but that is on me!

      • Call_Me_Al says:

        Good call, I need to try a barre class on youtube. I love the Bikram yoga series of postures, just hate the heat, the expense, and the length (it takes 90 minutes because you have to do each posture twice and have savasana in between each). So, I found several condensed 30 minute Bikram yoga videos on youtube. Just search “Bikram 30 minutes”, I’m hooked.

  3. Mac says:

    My trainer and I have been working out over Zoom and it’s not the same. He joined a trainer’s only gym where you can book the entire gym. During our second workout, a staff member was walking around unmasked so that was end of that. My husband’s gym is open at 30% capacity, which is 200 people. He’s obviously not going.

  4. Nicole says:

    I do feel for my local gym owners. They’ve been lobbying Gov. Newsom and going on TV to plead their case. They’ve adapted to working out in the park and parking lot. I am high risk so I will not be participating. I went to outdoor dance class and I loved it, but it freaked me out because I was the only one with a mask, and it really was way too many people to be out. I’m worried about our complacency.

  5. Chris says:

    My husband and I were going to Golds pre-pandemic. During lockdown we finally invested in equipment which was selling out like crazy and backordered for months (we are insanely privileged to be able to do this). That tells me that people avoiding gyms is going to be a thing for a long time. They were already germy before and I think the pandemic has really changed our opinions on cleanliness. I’ll be surprised if the in person fitness industry survives.

    • Darla says:

      Yep i’d be surprised too. People investing in that equipment are likely going to just stick with it. the gym in my complex reopened, and I look inside every time i pass. I feel a little tug of missing it, but I have replaced it with daily walks and weights. At this point I think I’m in better shape than I was pre-pandemic and I don’t see myself going back at all. Now, being in NY, my tune may change come January/Feb if we are in a deep freeze.

  6. Lizzy says:

    I live in France and all the gyms in Paris have closed because of the spike in COVID cases and the city has a curfew from 9pm to 6 am. I still don’t understand why they made gyms close when no clusters have originated from gyms. It would make more sense to tighten sanitary precautions ( limit the number of people, cancel large classes, take people temperatures before entering etc.) than just close them with no reopening date. It’s going to bankrupt the whole fitness industry.

    I have tried to work out from home but I live in a 33m2 flat so I am very limited in terms of what I can do indoor. I have chronic back ache which is made worse by being sedentary / working from home. I know I can’t complain because people have been dying of COVID and putting an end to that pandemic is essential but working out helps me with anxiety and depression and I feel more down now I can’t work out.

    • Kate says:

      Hey if Linda Hamilton/Sarah Connor could get ripped in Terminator working out in a small jail cell, you can do some mat workouts using your body weight as resistance! It takes more effort than going to a gym or class but it’s possible. Just pick one thing to do on youtube and try it. You’ll feel better! (note this is 50% me pep talking myself too lol)

  7. Arpeggi says:

    I love my ballet barre classes and yeah, I went back while gyms were opened in Mtl (they’ve closed down again, likely for a while) even if I thought it was risky despite all the measures taken because it was a calculated risk for me/ppl around me (I live alone, WFH or am alone in the lab when I go and basically don’t do much else or see ppl IRL).

    I feel for the gyms but what they need are bailouts so that they don’t go bankrupt and their employees are paid until we have better testing/tracing methods so that cases are identified and quarantined quickly. Until then, it’s not realistic to pretend that there won’t be outbreaks. Fight for bailouts, not reopenings

  8. The other Kiki says:

    I go to a boutique gym that limits class sizes and equipment sharing. It is pretty spacious and they have a garage door and a very large fan. I was initially worried but everyone wipes down equipment between circuits and we give each other plenty of space. It has been open since June and I don’t think there have been any covid cases as a result of attending class. Some people have attended before finding out they are covid positive. I think that’s happened 2-3 times, but they will notify everyone who was in the class so they can get tested. I think having a large room with high ceilings and decent ventilation has been key. We also rotate around the room and never spend more than 5-6 minutes at a station. Class sizes are usually 12-20 people.

  9. Meredith says:

    My favorite gym in Seattle built a outdoor shelter (basically a patio cover) in their parking lot. 7 people can fit distanced under the shelter and two outside of the shelter. It *seemed* fine until it was time for the tread work and then three people could go inside at a time. I felt so uncomfortable inside even though there were barriers and lots of room between us, plus they had the doors open and fans on. I will probably go back but just do a couple of laps around the building instead of going inside.

  10. Chaine says:

    My state has allowed outdoor fitness classes since midsummer. My gym began a schedule and lots of people came even though weather gets into the upper 90s. Then when the governor said gyms can open, limited capacity, my gym said they were going to move some of the classes inside. The members had an absolute revolt and they backed off that and continued the outdoor classes only. The indoor facility is still open though for people who want to use the equipment and weights and pool. I will not set foot inside knowing unmasked people are running on treadmills and spinning and breathing all over. My yoga studio went out of business. I feel terrible for the owners, but I think the majority of people will not return to indoor fitness until there’s a vaccine.

  11. Chill says:

    I’m still paying dues to Crunch. I do not go. I now teach an exercise class 3 times a week to my 3 sisters and 1 sister in law. It is working out great. I don’t know if I will ever go back. We will see.

  12. Emily says:

    I feel for these small gyms. But I think a distinction does need to be made between fitness classes/studios where people are in a small room together (obvious risk) and big open floor gyms where people are exercising independently and far apart. I found my gym, Goodlife, to be safe. They allow a limited number of people per square foot, close every hour for 30 min to deep clean and enforce mask wearing.

    I may be slightly biased because I rely on the gym for my mental health. I’m in a small condo and can’t find home exercise equipment online. My husband also works in the fitness industry and he’s been out of work since March. We’re still paying for daycare because no one knows when things will re-open (here in parts of Ontario, gyms re-opened for 2 months and then closed again with the second wave). It really sucks. Thank goodness Canada has been offering generous unemployment benefits through this whole thing.

  13. Rise above says:

    I own a small boutique strength and conditioning gym. I have been 100% compliant with my local health departments guidelines. Masks on, bay doors open, hepa and merv 13 air scrubbers, sanitization and disinfection as clients go along as well as before and after each class, as well as scientifically effective masks inside my facility at all times. Cut class size down to 3. Wear a ventilator and eye protection to work. Get laughed at by employees,clients and coworkers, asked to remove my mask because “it’s just us… You know us…” and get the usual “but my constitutional rights/ it’s a conspiracy” crowd. And I own the joint. Zero tolerance policy towards anyone not following the 17 ft, masks, hand sanitizing, and equipment cleaning procedures. If they don’t like that I close every 45th min on the hour to clean. Go elsewhere. I didn’t have the luxury of remaining shut, never saw a dime of unemployment or covid-19 grants or sba loans. Immigrant, woman of color belonging to a religious minority. While people talk about diversity in my town and how to combat racism and how we are all in this together (in words only!) I’m risking my neck not because I want to but because I have no other choice. This pandemic has shown me the good in some people and the complete disregard for your own life and others lives displayed by some other people. My expenses have gone up, my business has lost clients who will never come back (elderly intelligent women who will not risk their lives, who can blame em?) I’ve had to do business with clients who i would have normally turned away. Clients who have sexually harassed and assaulted me and my employees during a pandemic. We’ve been spit on! The way I look at it I was always expendable. Now I’m just expendable with less freedom and choice. I keep going to work knowing no matter how much I follow my safety and mitigation plan and constantly update it to meet my area requirements, no matter how hard i try – it is only a matter of when not if there is a covid-19 related incident. Going into work with that knowledge is devastating. I chose to go into this line of work to help people and create a safe spot for women, poc, lgbtqiapk, and any marginalized group. I’ve gone to big gyms before only to get harassed, I’ve gone to crossfit boxes only to be paraded around like the token minority, and I’ve been out of place at white only spaces like Barre and pilates. The reality of it is the government giving away small business loans and grants to bigger, whiter businesses is not a mistake. This administration is deeply racist and damaging to people like me. I now look at these alliances popping up trying to champion businesses like mine and I think maybe this will work. Then i come back to reality and question why is our system so messed up to put people like me in such a difficult position? That during a global pandemic we have shit health care, no choice to stay home really, meanwhile the wealth gap increases. Working people get the worst of capitalism and the wealthy get the best of socialism. Ha

    • pottymouth pup says:

      I belong to a small boutique gym which sounds like yours. They are careful, they continued classes online when closed and now that they’re permitted to be open they follow all rules. There are only a few classes (very limited workout) that are in person – attendance is capped at 4 people max spread pretty far apart, you wear your mask until you’re in your space and when you leave your space after the work out. The equipment you use in put in your space for you after disinfection, and disinfected after you’re done as well. They’re still doing most classes online but I really don’t have the space or set up for it (plus the dogs get in the way). Since my employment & salary haven’t suffered, and the gym is a small business, I’ve told them to keep charging me the same rates I was paying prior to the initial shut down. I think a few other people whose bottom line hasn’t suffered, even those attending few classes online online, are doing the same. We have a small community so a lot of people are going out of our way to support local biz, & the small local businesses are supporting each other. I’m hopeful the focus on supporting our community will continue when we reach our new normal

    • E says:

      Your comment brought me to tears. I’m in a different situation, but I’m still similarly trapped. I feel like no one understands what it feels like. You do. I’m so sorry that we’re in the same boat. You’re in my heart. Please take good care of yourself.

  14. The Mehgetarian says:

    I owned a boutique yoga and fitness studio. The week we started quarantine we started offering Zoom classes and private sessions. The overwhelming response from our patrons was “Why would we pay for this when we could do Yoga with Adriene or Pop Pilates for free?” As soon as we were able to reopen, we offered live studio spots at a quarter of our regular class capacity with an option to take online. The patrons who wanted to come live were mad we mandated masks and temp checks. Eventually business completely dried up because we didn’t completely reopen and I had to shut down the studio.

    During the downtime taught myself how to do basic construction work through YouTube and finished my basement into a studio. I invited students I knew would adhere to distancing, masks, and hygiene and hold classes for <4 people in my studio or backyard and livestream to anyone else who wants to join in virtually. I love this new setup and feel completely relieved not to have to deal with bitchy clients and all the commercial business stuff I’d grown to dread.

    I think a lot of small business ownership is headed this way. I personally take all my dance and yoga classes online and am so excited to get to take from international teachers I normally wouldn’t have access to.

    It’s a sad situation all around but hopefully people can find a few silver linings here and there.

  15. AMA1977 says:

    We have a fully functional home gym because it was one of my husband’s goals when we moved into a home with space for it, but both of my kids do (did, pre-pandemic) indoor fitness activities (my son does tae kwon do and my daughter gymnastics) and we are still on hold to return to both despite the studios’ efforts at sanitation, limiting class size, etc. It just doesn’t feel safe yet, especially TKD (they closed reluctantly when they *had to* and tried to reopen before they were officially allowed, so I do NOT feel confident that they would keep my child safe!)

    We are fortunate to be able to pay for both still, but the kids miss it a LOT and I’m sure both businesses are missing out on a lot of income. The bottom line is that there needs to be another round of PPP loans for ACTUAL small businesses so these kinds of places came make it through to the other side.

  16. Vero831 says:

    OTF (Orange Theory) is responsible for a spread in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. Some gyms require masks but most do not. There is still the shared equipment part too. It is not worth it all for me.

  17. Kristen says:

    The first day that gyms were allowed to be open again here (Michigan), there were people in a gym that I walked by exercising without masks, even though they were supposed to be required. While I think that all businesses that were closed should’ve gotten more federal assistance, I have zero sympathy for people who can’t follow simple rules in order to keep the thing you’ve been asking for.

  18. Kyla says:

    The spin studio in Hamilton had class sizes of 21! That was their reduced, social distance class size. I don’t know if the classes were full when it lead to the Super spreader cases. But, 21 was way too many!!

    The spin studio I go to has reduced to 6 bikes in a fairly big room. I was pretty comfortable with that and all their other precautions when they re-opened. They’re closed again right now due to government restrictions. But I’ll go back if they’re able to reopen in early November. I’m ok with 6 people. But anything more than 6 is too many for me to feel safe right now.

    The studio I got to has been great offering online spin, yoga, and HIIT classes. But I know I won’t use them. So instead, I’ve kept up my monthly membership, but have donated it through the studio to someone who would use it but may have lost their job or otherwise can’t afford it right now. I’m fortunate to be able to do so. But, as soon as they reopen, and as long as the class size remain very small, I’ll go back.

  19. Blairski says:

    I feel really badly for the boutique gym owners who are suffering in this. I’m really impressed with the descriptions of the lengths to which owners are going to keep themselves and patrons safe! And also impressed with the number of folks responding to this post who are paying for classes despite not going. You’re good people.

    I’ve stayed w my boutique gym owner / fitness trainer through the whole pandemic, but online. We moved onto Zoom the first week and I follow the same 3x per week schedule (and pay the same amount). She’s still open, with precautions, but there’s no way I’m breathing heavily in a small space with other people until this is over.

  20. Amber says:

    I don’t think I will ever go back to a gym again. I used to go five times a week but I stopped going before COVID hit because my gym had used zip ties instead of carabiner clips for the attachments on the cable machine. Plastic zip ties are not a substitute when weights are involved lol. That showed me that the gym owners didn’t care about the safety of their patrons. If they had run out of carabiner clips or needed new ones they should have just closed the cable machine until they got replacements. They also didn’t have spray bottles of disinfectant anywhere in the gym so that felt really gross. Gyms are hot spots for staph infections. You shouldn’t have to bring your own disinfectant. They should provide it. It’s a smaller chain called Fitness 19 which is I think just local in CA. I’d been to two other locations of theirs that were better maintained. But I also just got tired of the gym being always crowded and having limited access to equipment, dealing with men harassing me, etc. You don’t need a lot of equipment to be fit at home, you just need a good program. Claire P. Thomas has a home fitness program I’ve been following and it’s plenty challenging and doesn’t require any equipment at all.

  21. Zaya says:

    Prelockdown, I was addicted to boutique classes – pilates, Lagree, boxing, yoga, spin, bootcamp. I did a class or two everyday – sometimes I did three or even four classes in a day. I haven’t been back yet, but I miss my workouts. I feel bad for gym owners and trainers, but then I also worry about outbreaks like what happened in Canada.

    Here in the OC, all the gyms complied with the first lockdown. But during the second one, I noticed that a lot of them decided to reopen before they were allowed to. Which I mean, I get that their businesses are struggling, but I do sideeye that decision not to follow guidelines. If you’re not following the reopening guidelines, how am I to be sure you’re following the health ones?