Charlotte’s gyms are barely hanging on

Charlotte’s gyms are barely hanging on
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North Carolina is one of five states, including Puerto Rico, that requires gyms to remain closed statewide due to the coronavirus pandemic. Around Charlotte, gym owners are struggling to keep their businesses alive.

Gyms are not permitted to open during phase two, though some still are reopening, citing loopholes in Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order that allow for indoor exercise for health purposes.

Without this, gyms have very few options for revenue during the pandemic.

Some have frozen memberships while their clients can’t workout. Others have continued charging customers (who haven’t canceled their membership) to stay afloat. Many gyms have moved classes online or outside. In May, a group of North Carolina gym owners sued Cooper, arguing that his order mandating their closure infringed on their constitutional rights.

[Related Agenda guide: 20+ Charlotte spots offering social distance-friendly workouts right now]

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When Aerial CLT, an aerial fitness studio in Uptown, announced they were closing in July, clients started a GoFundMe to help the studio stay open. Right now Aerial CLT is offering summer camps for kids. According to the GoFundMe page update on August 6, the studio has enough to cover rent through September but needs another $7,000 for October rent.

aerial clt

Closures: For some gyms, the minimal revenue that outdoor and online classes provide just isn’t enough. Iyengar Yoga Studio in Elizabeth closed its brick-and-mortar space to become a “virtual studio,” hosting only virtual classes going forward. Yoga One closed its two locations permanently in June after 14 years.

Erica Fenlon, owner of CycleSouth in Uptown, says she offered a few courses online but the revenue didn’t go far. Five months into the shutdown, Fenlon made the decision to close the cycling studio for good.

“It’s just not going to be safe, not just in five weeks, in my view,” she says, in regards to Cooper’s five-week extension of phase two.

Cycle studios, Fenlon says, produce lots of droplets, from instructors yelling to students panting. She said the prospects of operating the studio safely without a vaccine were slim. Even with a vaccine, she wondered when gym goers would feel safe coming back to exercise in person.

“It’s awful. I feel like I just put a dog down,” she says. “It’s one of those things where you have to make the decision and you know it’s the right decision, but it’s heartbreaking. (For) any gym owner, that’s like their baby.”

Fenlon says other gyms with different forms of exercise have a better argument for opening safely during phase two.

Gyms fight to reopen: In May, Madabolic CLT posted a video on Instagram asking gym owners to rally together and get the governor to allow them to reopen. “We really just do not understand the logic to say that a gym is more risky than going to Starbucks or going to the grocery store and now going to restaurants,” gym owner Brandon Cullen said in the video.

Big picture: Coronavirus restrictions are changing the ways most of us operate. We’re opting for takeout and cooking our own meals instead of dining in restaurants, creating our own forms of entertainment at home, and exercising at home, too. Just look at Peloton. The pricey fitness bike saw stock prices rise 18 percent during the month of July.

Even if a gym can stay in the green with online classes, virtual studios don’t provide the same sense of community, Fenlon says.

“It just changes the whole reason we loved the studio,” she says. “If I have to put barriers between everybody and a big huge plastic cage around my instructor, it really changes it a lot.”

Feature image courtesy OrangeTheory (taken pre-coronavirus)


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