‘We’re rooting for you’: Fitness centers struggle to stay afloat with 10% capacity restrictions

  Ruth Nash leads a class at Studio B Dance Center. Fitness center capacity in…

 

Ruth Nash leads a class at Studio B Dance Center. Fitness center capacity in Summit County was recently reduced from 25% to 10% amid level red restrictions, which is negatively affecting businesses like Studio B.
Photo from Kelsey Booth Photography

 

The fitness industry has taken a big hit with the new level red restrictions. Gym and fitness center capacity has shrunk from 25% to 10%, resulting in significant cuts to the number of participants allowed per class at local studios.

With these changes, some businesses are struggling to break even.

Lauren Hitchell, owner of Studio B Dance Center, can have only two clients at a time under the new restrictions and said she has had to let all of her teachers go because she can’t afford to pay them.

“It absolutely sucks, to be quite frank. Unfortunately, the fitness industry has really gotten the brunt of everything, and I think it’s been really frustrating because when all of this started happening, fitness or businesses like mine were actually the safest to be in anyway,” Hitchell said, referring to the natural spacing between people required for a workout and sanitation of equipment between classes.

When the reopening process began, Hitchell said it was difficult to get clients in. After months of the studio being shut down, classes were full as far as two weeks out. To level the playing field during level red restrictions, Hitchell has implemented a lottery system where eight people can sign up for a class, and then two people are selected the night before. She noted that while this system may make things more fair for clients, it’s extra communication and administration work for the business owner.

With only two clients allowed per class, Hitchell said she would need to teach about 10 classes per day just to break even with her rent, which she physically can’t do, especially being pregnant. Hitchell said she’s uncertain about the future as Studio B’s financial situation is bleak, but she feels she would be doing the community a disservice if she closed her doors.

“The value that Studio B does bring to the community is there,” Hitchell said. “The clients that are coming are constantly telling me, ’Thank you so much for being open. You’re saving my mental health.’ … All we can do is rely on our community to get us through this.”

Bridget Crowe, owner of Body Essentials Pilates, said much of her client base is people who are 50 or older, so before the shutdown even hit, she had started offering online classes for people who weren’t comfortable coming to her studio.

Crowe said summer was outstanding, considering the circumstances, because she was able to hold indoor, outdoor and virtual classes. With the small space, Crowe’s indoor classes were only three or four people. When the level red restrictions knocked capacity down to two people, Crowe said it didn’t feel tragic.

“What’s been nice is people have progressed in their bodies and their Pilates and their strength because it’s been a way smaller (class),” Crowe said. “… Financially, it’s a different place, but … I’m so willing to obviously do whatever it takes to make sure that my clients and myself and our community is as healthy as we can possibly be, so I would never blink an eye at having to go smaller or even to re-shut down again. I’ve got more ideas on how to keep my people using Pilates equipment even if we do fully shut down.”

While Crowe has a positive outlook on restrictions, financially, things aren’t the same operating at current capacity limits, and she said it’s not something she could go on doing forever. Crowe noted that there are some silver linings, such as second-home owner clients who are now able to continue taking her classes virtually from outside the county. However, Crowe said she’s working harder than ever to keep her business afloat. Juggling Zoom classes, in-person duets and private classes, Crowe is teaching upward of eight to nine hours a day on top of the extra time she’s spending cleaning.

Katelyn Huston, owner of Barre Forte Summit County, has had to cut down the number of people in her classes along with the number of classes taught per week. Huston said she’s cut down classes because it doesn’t make sense to pay instructors with three clients per class. But Huston can’t teach all of the usual weekly classes on her own.

Huston pointed out that with reduced classes per week, the chance of someone buying a monthly pass goes down, and fewer people coming into the studio means fewer retail items are sold, which adds another hit to the bottom line. The biggest issue, Huston said, is the studio’s momentum as business started to pick up again prior to level red but will be set back with the changes.

She was also concerned that she doesn’t know whether the fitness centers will receive any aid from the town or state.

“I’m just going to see how the next month goes, and then go from there,” Huston said. “It’s very tricky. … It’s not easy to just say you’re going to close your doors because we have leases that we’ve signed. That’s why I have (two) part-time jobs; it’s to keep the studio going and hopefully not have to close the doors. This is serious for gyms and restaurants, which are really the main ones that are being affected right now.”

Knowing that the studio isn’t bringing in revenue, Huston said staying motivated is a challenge.

“A lot of people have been saying that they appreciate that we’re following the rules, and they’re glad because they do feel safe coming to class, which is wonderful,” Huston said. “But really, the biggest thing I hear is, ‘Oh, gosh. I really hope you can stay open. … We’re rooting for you.’”

Huston also noted that it’s difficult as a small studio to be compared to larger recreation centers. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the 10% capacity rule in level red applies to indoor gyms, indoor fitness classes, recreation centers, bowling alleys, pools and indoor sports facilities. There is an exception for personal training services for fewer than four people, which fall under the personal services category and have a 25% capacity limit.

Capacity levels at the Silverthorne and Breckenridge recreation centers have been reduced, as well, but Breckenridge Director of Recreation Scott Reid said the center has seen only a slight reduction because it was fairly conservative in how it ramped up after reopening. The Breckenridge Recreation Center went from 22 reservations per time slot to 15 and is capping each room, such as the cardio room, at 10 people. The Silverthorne Recreation Center has reduced individual workout reservations from 25 to 20 per hour. The center is also now limiting drop-in for sports play or pickleball to one household per reservation.

Editor’s note: Taylor Sienkiewicz is an instructor at Barre Forte Summit County.

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