January is typically the biggest month for gyms and fitness studios, as New Year’s resolutioners vow to make this their year to get in shape. But this January, instead of preparing to welcome a slew of new students, gym and studio owners are facing another year of the pandemic. Wellness and fitness businesses offer an antidote to the disconnection, stress, and inactivity of the pandemic. But we haven’t gotten the targeted government relief we need to secure a stable future.
The yoga studio I co-own, Carolina Yoga Company, was thriving in January 2020. Our three locations in Carrboro, Durham, and Hillsborough, NC, offered over seventy classes a week, as well as a robust series and workshop schedule. Now, in January 2022, we are hoping to break even—though the current wave of infections is making that unlikely.
We are lucky to be around to stay hopeful. According to IHRSA, a fitness-industry association, more than one in five gyms had closed by August 2021 due to Covid losses. In response to a survey by the Community Gyms Coalition at the start of 2021, over a third of gym and studio owners expected to be out of business by year’s end. That’s been the case in my area: half of the locally owned movement studios have closed their doors since the start of the pandemic.
As our goal is creating space for connection, we chose to focus on preserving our physical locations, where we knew connection would best thrive. While we were lucky enough to have understanding landlords, our landlords have their own obligations, and for months we paid rent on spaces we could not use.
Late in 2020 we reopened with indoor masked, distanced classes. These felt like a community service and a mental-health lifeline, but they never justified the price of keeping our doors open. Numbers have grown since we pulled up the tape that marked out distanced mats. But every time we feel like things are looking up, a new variant emerges and our class enrollment falls again.
All the while, regardless of student attendance numbers, our fixed operations costs continue unabated: rent, common-area maintenance, utilities, scheduling software, credit card processing, insurance, and on and on. If not for my husband’s income, I’d have had to cut my losses on the business (including five years left on a lease!) and move on to a new job.
This problem is playing out at gyms and studios nationwide. Our high fixed costs and staffing structure mean the usual relief programs aren’t helping enough. We’ve hustled to apply for county and town grants, and we’ve been lucky to receive some.
The emergency disaster loans are nice, especially the $10,000 grant they included, which helped cover some rent when we weren’t allowed to be open. But these well-intentioned grants have been Band-Aids on a deep wound. We don’t want a loan, especially with our future so unknowable. We need direct aid that doesn’t accumulate future debt.
How can you help your local yoga studio or gym? If you’re a member at a small fitness studio and your budget allows, please do not cancel your membership. Recurring revenue is the foundation of most studios’ and gyms’ business models. If you want a studio to return to when you feel comfortable going back to class, we need you to stick with us now.
If you aren’t a member, do the old-fashioned January thing and join a gym or studio. We would love to connect with you and teach you skills to feel strong, embodied, and centered. And now, when classes are small, you’ll get extra personalized attention as you develop healthy habits.
Finally, please encourage your elected representatives to support the GYMS Act and other targeted relief for gyms and fitness and wellness studios. Such support will keep those of us who work hard to keep you healthy in good financial shape.
We have been hit hard, like all small businesses. But we have been left behind as restaurants and live entertainment venues received relief. With our very mission being to improve people’s health, we should be top of the list for targeted aid during this public health crisis.
We fitness and wellness professionals know how to motivate ourselves and others. But we also know we can’t push forever without rest, and we know the power of teamwork. Be our teammate. Help us.