W. MI gyms approaching point of no return

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Some local gyms are facing closures and layoffs after being closed for several months due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Gyms are among the few venues that are still not allowed to open and operate under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order. 

In an email to News 8, a representative for Fit Body Boot Camp confirmed it will permanently close its Lowell location on Aug. 31. They credit a significant decline in membership due to COVID-19. 

“Since being forced to suspend all in-person services earlier this year, we’ve seen a 34% decline in membership in just four months across our 10 locations. Unfortunately, we know that the number of holds and cancellations will continue to climb the longer we remain closed,” said Jennifer Johnston with Fit Body Boot Camp. “It’s devastating to me that we can’t continue to help the Lowell community improve their mental and physical health. In the seven years I’ve been a small business owner, this is the first time we’ve had to eliminate jobs due to a downturn in business.”

The fitness club says they are cutting four employees and 170 clients will be displaced. 

“We will continue to innovate and introduce the many benefits of Fit Body to new clients, while also working to bring people back who canceled or suspended their membership,” said Johnston.

Other local gym owners say they are still they are now hanging on by a thread. The owner at Lunar Cycle studio near Michigan Avenue and Union Street said they were only open for seven weeks before they were forced to shut down. 

“I think all of us were in a little bit of disbelief about what was happening, and I think we were unrealistic about how long this would go on,” said Lunar Cycle owner Sara Grey. “I think what is maybe the hardest (part), is there’s no end in sight. There’s absolutely no message to any gym owner that we will ever open again.”

Grey says they were able to rent bikes out to their customers and host classes virtually for a while to recoup some funds. As the weather outside improved, she says they began hosting classes outdoors. Several local gym owners say they have been doing the same thing to stay afloat. 

 “This is honestly the first thing that I’ve done in my life that I’ve been super proud of,” said Cori Williams, who owns Beer City Barre on Monroe Avenue in Grand Rapids. “My whole heart and everything is in this space and so to see it, watch it kind of go day by day and be taken from me — it’s gut-wrenching.”

Williams says she left a corporate job to open her studio almost four years ago. She says the longer she and other gyms are forced to operate like this, the harder it becomes to remain open. 

“As the days tick by, the margins of being able to stay financially viable get smaller and smaller and smaller,” said Williams. 

Other local gyms say they’ve been forced to cut staff. 

On Monday, the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids announced 1,021 permanently layoffs for part-time staffers across its Kent County facilities. The fitness center credited the pandemic with the reason for the layoffs.

They say before this announcement, these employees were temporarily laid off in April. The organization says these layoffs impact employees at seven different locations, including the David D. Hunting YMCA in downtown Grand Rapids.

“We did not come to this decision lightly. The Y values its employees and the amazing work they do for our communities. Ultimately, we did not feel it was in the best interests of the employees or the organization to indefinitely maintain their temporary layoff status while we remain closed,” a representative for the YMCA said in a statement. “As a nonprofit organization, we must walk a line between a call for social responsibility and a need to protect our finite resources.”

The organization says its plan to continue serving the community with child care, the Virtual Kindergarten Readiness Program and Summer Branch Day Camps and various YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin camps. The organization will continue providing Food Distribution to help food-insecure children and families with snacks and meals. 

“Despite these challenges, we remain committed to our mission of strengthening the foundations of the West Michigan community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. We look forward to opening our doors to the community again soon,” the YMCA’s statement said.

Gym owners say while permanently closing is a real possibility for many, they don’t plan to give up. 

“It’s not an option. It’s just not an option. We will find one creative solution after another creative solution to figure out how to get to shore,” Grey said. “I’m just really grateful to see that through all of the challenges that we’ve faced, that people still show up for each other in huge ways that make the difference that they don’t even know that they make.”

Business owners say they are still awaiting guidance from the state on reopening. Whitmer has previously said that gyms will likely be some of the last venues to open.

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