The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major boom for fitness centers in Boulder Valley and northern Colorado, but a return to economic health finally seems on the horizon.
“By December we had lost about half of our members. That’s when it got really tough when we hit about 10% capacity at the top [in the disease] happened, ”said Allison Hockstad, General Manager of Gold’s Gym in Longmont. “January was still a loss, but February is our first monthly forecast in a year to get more members than we lost. We finally felt like we hit that plateau last month and that this will be the first month we start climbing back. “
Falling rates of coronavirus cases brought Broomfield County an upgrade to Level Blue on the state’s dial for pandemic-related restrictions in late February. For fitness studios this means an expansion of 25% of the capacity to 50% or 175 people in one room. Also in February, Larimer County companies approved to operate under the county’s Level-Up program, which allows companies to be more flexible with COVID-19 restrictions, were allowed to move to Level Yellow, which meant that gyms could have risen to 50 people per room.
The gyms survived a state-ordered shutdown on March 17, which lasted about three months. Some first set up a virtual platform, but then decided to shut it down completely. Most gyms reopened in mid-June but were limited to 25% capacity, six feet apart, and mandatory masks.
Financial success forced several individual studios and chains such as Gold’s and 24-Hour Fitness to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The latter company permanently closed 13 Colorado gyms, including locations at 4650 W. 120th Ave. in Broomfield, 460 S. College Ave. at Fort Collins and 3001 S. 23rd Ave. in Greeley. However, when the restrictions were partially lifted, 18 locations opened, including 2900 Iris Ave. in Boulder, 2208 E. Harmony Road in Fort Collins and 851 NUS Highway 287 in Lafayette.
To finally have the finish line in sight is a relief after a year-long marathon of diminished returns that also included setbacks from some regular members in some places – especially in places like Longmont, which spans two counties with distinctly different cultural and political leanings.
“We’re in an interesting area in Boulder County, but we have a lot of Weld County members,” said Hockstad. “It makes it a very interesting place to work. We definitely have some members who really don’t want to wear the mask, don’t enjoy wearing the mask, and some who are very interested in anyone who wears the mask at all times. We have a few gyms in different counties that are less divided, but people definitely disagree on this.
“I definitely got yelled at,” said Hockstad, who started at Gold’s Longmont site when it opened five years ago in a former Dillard department store building in what is now Village at the Peaks. “It’s more the regulations. You’re more angry with the county or the state than you are with me, but I’ve never been so pressured on anything.
“Now that it’s been so long, most of the people are on board, but it was definitely a struggle. It’s hard to train in a mask, I’ll say that. “
The distancing request was facilitated by a business model that included extended hours, said Jeremy Levinson, general manager of an Anytime Fitness location about two miles north of Gold’s.
“We’d create a window of time for people to come in,” he said. “We are open 24 hours so that people can come at any time. The 25% capacity would mean 15 people an hour, but we usually didn’t even have more than five people an hour.
“You don’t have to make a reservation anymore.”
All gyms have tightened their hygiene systems, and employees and customers have wiped the machines down after use.
At Gold’s, “we require members to disinfect equipment, and people are pretty good at cleaning,” Hockstad said. At Anytime Fitness, Levinson said, “You wipe it off afterward, and then we wipe it off. Then we have a cleaning team in the morning and in the evening. “
Golds “changed little things,” said Hockstad. “We no longer offer sweat towels or coffee stations – common things like this. We mark every other cardio machine and offer fewer courses than before. Everything runs; it’s just with a lesser capacity. “
One of the features of this club is a movie room where members can exercise on stationary bikes, treadmills, and other equipment while they watch a live movie. That was a plus for customer convenience, said Hockstad.
“When people are in a separate room with four walls and a door, they can take their mask off while they are alone,” she said. “You can’t be with someone who’s away from your household, but that still helps people wanting to do harder cardio.”
While larger gyms in general even managed to weather the spike in COVID-19 cases in late 2020 and the resulting limitation in Colorado’s 10% capacity, it was a lot for small boutique studios already struggling with 25% capacity more difficult. For some of them, 25% meant nine to 10 people in the studio at a time, and a reduction to 10% meant only three or four people were allowed in at the same time. For some small fitness and yoga studios, spending 10% more on payroll than on income.
That kind of pinch prompted several gym owners to form the Colorado Fitness Coalition in August to aid government officials. The coalition found that the state’s fitness industry had revenue of $ 695 million in a typical year, and warned officials that if that were to happen, Colorado could lose an estimated 200 gyms, 22,000 jobs, and $ 12 million in payroll taxes Restrictions would not be relaxed. Reference was also made to a University of Oregon study of Colorado health clubs published in December that used 32 weeks of data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, spanning nearly 8.5 million check-ins, and no association was found with the 59 outbreaks reported by CDPHE. The coalition claimed the results showed that going to the gym was safer than going to bars, restaurants, or grocery stores.
However, a study published in January by the University of Colorado Boulder found that an exercising person’s body emits as many chemicals as that of up to five people who are seated. These breath and sweat emissions, combined with the chemicals used for hygiene, create new chemicals in the air with unknown effects on indoor air quality.
Overall, the fitness industry has made changes – some experimental, others long-term – that could forever change the way gyms are designed and operated. Changes in ventilation systems are already being attributed to keeping the club’s infection rate down, and many centers are developing safe outdoor exercise rooms, as well as virtual classes and instructor-led exercises.
Fitness users have also developed other habits that can persist long after the gyms normalize – or whatever post-pandemic normalcy looks like.
“Once the bans took effect, the home fitness businesses – everything from yoga mats to high-tech cardio machines – started like wildfire,” said Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry adviser for research firm NPD Group. He said revenue from these retail sales more than doubled to $ 2.3 billion across the country from March to October, with treadmill sales increasing 135% and stationary bikes nearly tripling.
You also meet nature. Managers of areas that range from city and county parks to Rocky Mountain National Park have noted sizable spikes that are particularly used by trail runners.
Still, the spring of 2021 brings optimism to most fitness centers.
“As a facility, we had no breakouts,” said Hockstad. “We think the gym, with the precautions, the masks and the smaller capacity, is a safe place.
“Several elderly people came back just this week and said they had both been vaccinated. You are just beginning to withdraw. That will be the key – so that people will feel more comfortable when they return to the gym.
“It was super difficult,” said Hockstad, “but for the first time in a long time this month I am optimistic that things will get better.”