Toronto gym owners feel the burn of the second pandemic shut down

Click to play video: 'Closed gyms in Toronto forces owners to change business models'
Closed gyms in Toronto forces owners to change business models
Many gym owners in Toronto are scrambling to adapt their business models after the province ordered indoor gyms closed for a period of 28 days in the city. – Oct 10, 2020

Gym owners are dealing with the realities of another shut down.

As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, all indoor fitness centres in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa are closed for the next 28 days.

Andrew Liew, owner of Afterburn Fitness in Toronto, says it’ll be tough to go through a shut down for the second time this year.

“It’s going to hit us even harder than in summer,” Liew says.

At this time of year, Liew’s gym is normally filled with sports teams and athletes. Now the space is empty.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Indoor dining, gyms ordered to close in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa

The provincial government on Friday afternoon ordered the closure of indoor gyms, casinos, cinemas, performing arts centres, and indoor dining and drink service at restaurants, bars and nightclubs as part of a “modified Stage 2” in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa.

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“If we don’t take this action now the situation could overtake us,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “Then we would have to impose a complete lockdown over a much longer period of time.”

For his part, Liew says he is not convinced the politicians making the decisions about what stays open and what gets closed understand how much gyms can vary.

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He says he would like to see the government take a more nuanced approach, one that would ideally take into consideration a gym’s space, airflow and cleaning regimes, as well as the nature of the workouts it offers.

“We have 16-foot ceilings here and we also have 16-foot garage doors that allow for plenty of ventilation to keep things circulating,” Liew says. “We also have high-quality cleaning equipment and air purifiers as well.”

Click to play video: 'Ontario considering new restrictions in COVID-19 hotspots including restaurants, gyms'
Ontario considering new restrictions in COVID-19 hotspots including restaurants, gyms

Gym owners say that having to switch gears once again is déjà vu to what they went through back in the spring.

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Jennifer Lau, co-owner of Fit Squad in downtown Toronto, says several trainers at her gym are back online now that in-person classes and training have been put on hold.

Lau says going virtual is a good way to retain a relationship with members, but it is far from ideal.

“We lost 50 clients right off the bat for the first shut down,” Lau says.

“Who knows what’s going to happen. Our services are not the same virtually as they are in person. It’s going to be quite the struggle for the next six to eight months.”

READ MORE: City of Toronto to suspend some recreation programs amid coronavirus resurgence

Phil Cormier opened his fourth gym location this year and says he has struggled to get a good rhythm going with his members. He says the inconsistency makes it difficult for clients.

“We’ve been open for 14 total weeks,” Cormier says. “That’s seven weeks before the original shut down, and about seven weeks after, and now we are shut down again.

Cormier says he would like the government to release more details about why the fitness industry is not allowed to operate indoors.

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“We just want some evidence and some clarity and some transparency on what’s going to happen to our industry,” Cormier says.

While many people are choosing to workout outside, colder weather will soon hit. That presents a new set of challenges for the gym owners who are trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

While the current lockdown is only scheduled for 28 days, gym owners know it could always be extended if provincial authorities say it is too risky to reopen.

“I would not be surprised if we got pushed back again and again and again,” Cormier says.

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