MINT HILL, NC – As COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the state of North Carolina, business owners forced to shut their doors on March 17 eagerly await an announcement from Governor Cooper about a potential move into Phase 3.
It’s been a long fourteen weeks for gym owners and patrons, who were surprised when they were ordered to remain closed when North Carolina transitioned into Phase 2 on May 22. While restaurants, salons, barbers, and swimming pools were allowed to open at 50% capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements, bars, playgrounds, gyms, and fitness studios – all of which were expected to open at reduced capacity in Phase 2 – remained closed.
The decision to leave gyms off the list of the many businesses to reopen left people eager to return to the gym stumped. “I don’t understand the reasoning,” says Mint Hill resident Lauren Williams, who attends Burn Boot Camp Matthews. “I just don’t understand how one can go to Walmart, Target, the mall, the pool, but can’t visit the gym.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many gym owners eager to reopen their doors who have spent the past weeks lobbying for a change. Despite their efforts, Governor Cooper vetoed a bill Friday that would have allowed gyms and bars to reopen at reduced capacity.
It’s a blow to many gym owners who are suffering from a drastic loss in business. These fourteen weeks have been challenging for 9 Round Mint Hill owner Nancy Jones. Despite posting online workouts for current clients, Jones estimates she has about half the membership she did before COVID-19 forced her to close indefinitely.
The week before North Carolina moved into Phase 2, Jones was hopeful that Governor Cooper would give the green light for gyms to open. She had already ordered special sanitizing chemicals for the floors and equipment and had planned out how she would enforce social distancing, sanitize equipment between clients, and discourage people from congregating in the waiting area. It was a lot to think through, but Jones felt prepared to open on May 23.
Other gym owners are on board with the Governor’s decision to take a more conservative approach. “Because of the nature of what I do and because of the population I work with, I’m being very conservative,” says Bettie Shea, owner, and instructor at Mint Hill Yoga, who planned to remain closed until at least mid-June regardless of the Governor’s decision. “I want a chance to see how things progress in Phase 2 if infections tick back up or not. My primary concern is my clients, making sure they are safe, making sure they’re not going to get sick.”
In the meantime, Shea has made a fairly successful transition to online instruction. With the physical building closed since March 15, Shea has been holding her classes as scheduled via Zoom. “They’ve gone really well,” says Shea. “People have been pretty responsive. There were some people that either didn’t have internet or had plans that were limited, so they couldn’t stream, but most of my regulars followed me and stayed with me. The people who didn’t come with me, I’ve been in communication with, and they’ve said they’re coming back as soon as I’m back in the space.”
Tone Your Temple is another local fitness studio that’s on board with waiting a little longer to reopen. “I’m actually going to wait a couple of weeks after the date we’ve been given if we can open on the 22nd,” said owner and trainer Rhonda Walker prior to Phase 2. “I want to make sure my clients are comfortable, and I want them to be safe. I also just want to see how it goes with other gyms.”
Self-described as a cautious person who always tests the waters first, Walker elected to close her doors earlier than other gyms in the area. “I closed two weeks before the Stay at Home order because I saw how bad it was in New York,” says Walker. “I’m always cleaning anyway, and I just did not want to have any problems occur in the studio.”
Tone Your Temple is located on Lawyers Road across from The Hill.
Closing before COVID-19 began to heavily affect our everyday lives enabled Walker to make a smooth transition into virtual training. “I was already set up for virtual because I knew it would be coming,” says Walker, who had time to help her clients obtain the equipment they needed to work out with her from home. On March 16, Walker started virtual training using her iPad as a webcam and her 50” television screen to train ten clients at a time.
For Walker, the transition to virtual training has been a blessing. “I actually had an uptick in clientele because of the gyms that closed in the area,” says Walker, who plans to bring her equipment to the studio and continue a blended virtual and live class when she does feel safe reopening. “My clients absolutely love it. Some want to continue virtually. They’re not comfortable going into a gym setting with other people yet, or many just like the convenience of not having to leave their house.”
Not all gym owners have been so lucky. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of government support, Cor Fitness MMA will not reopen,” Cor Fitness owner Tony Boncore wrote to members on May 17. “Our monthly overhead exceeds any type of support the SBA and government can provide to remain open. Without collecting monthly memberships for the last two months, I, unfortunately, do not have any other choice but to permanently close our doors.”
“The effect on my business has been devastating, as it has been for Cor Fitness,” says DXF Fitness owner and trainer Daniel Beaupre, who merged his business with Beaupre’s last spring shortly after he began training at Cor Fitness MMA. Beaupre plans to resume outdoor fitness classes and look for a spot to build when the pandemic subsides; in the meantime, he has been doing virtual training as well as some one-on-one training with strict COVID restrictions.
With Phase 2 due to expire at 5:00 pm on Friday, July 26, it’s possible that gym owners and patrons will soon see a reprieve. However, gym life will need to look a little different when they are allowed to reopen. You may need to reserve a time slot to mitigate potential crowds; water fountains may be off-limits. Studies have shown that the heavy breathing we do during a workout increases the distance respiratory droplets travel, so you’ll need to decide if group classes and activities that involve close contact and shared equipment are worth the risk.
It’s caused many gym owners to rethink the way their businesses function. One defining feature of 9 Round is that clients can come in and begin their workout at any time; reopening will involve an element of scheduling to limit the number of people in the gym at one time and sanitize equipment properly between clients. They’ll need to eliminate measures that bring trainers into direct contact with customers, like assistance with gloves and one-on-one drills. But overall, Jones is confident that 9 Round can continue to offer clients the same high-quality workout experience they received prior to COVID-19.
“We’re a little bit ahead of the curve,” says Jones. “We’re probably going to be much more able to give clients the same experience as they would have had before because we’re a small gym, and we give individual attention, not personal training. That’s not going to change. The actual workout itself will not change, and if you’ve been on the couch or eating pizza for the last two months, you’re going to need 9 Round!”
Mint Hill Yoga, too, will need to make changes when they’re able to resume live, in-person classes. Shea will no longer loan out props like blankets, bolsters, blocks, and straps. She’s already been communicating with her clients that they’ll need to acquire their own and bring them to class. Classes will be limited to six people, but Shea will consider adding more to the schedule if demand is too high to accommodate everyone with classes that small. She’s planning to tape out spaces on the floor to enforce social distancing and, of course, sanitize everything frequently.
“Ten is actually what I need to go back into the studio,” says Walker, referring to the number of clients she’s currently training in a single virtual class. “I’ve already got placement for everyone. I’m going to assign each group training client a color so they know where to go when they come in. I’ve got everyone their own spray bottle along with cleaning wipes; they’ll clean their own equipment.”
Safer at Home Phase 2 is set to expire on June 26, but it remains unclear what will happen next. when local gyms and fitness centers will be able to open their doors again. The Governor is expected to announce this week if he will extend the order or modify it in some way, a decision which he promises will be guided by science and data.
If quarantine has left you feeling sluggish and ready to get back to the gym, you can explore some of the options presented in this article right now. To learn more about 9 Round, visit https://www.9round.com/fitness/mint-hill-nc-x4569. To try out one of Bettie Shea’s virtual yoga classes, visit https://www.minthillyoga.com/registration/. To learn more about virtual training options at Tone Your Temple, call or text Rhonda Walker at (980) 253-2922.