Give us a bailout of our own like restaurants and concert venues

Ashley Poole cried for several days after the Greenwood Village gym, which she had been a member of for 28 years, suddenly closed in March 2020. Gone was their sense of belonging and their socialization.

“I am a cancer survivor and I can tell you that isolation during COVID was the worst thing that has ever happened to me,” said the 51-year-old from Centennial. “… This closing of the doors meant the end of any kind of human interaction, and when you live alone it’s a frightening prospect.”

Colorado fitness centers, which ranged from chain gyms to boutique yoga studios, were early victims of pandemic temporary closings. At the end of 2020, capacity limits were preventing them from making as much money as they are spending. Membership today remains well below pre-pandemic levels and many have debts to settle.

“We hurt,” said Cory Brightwell, CEO of Chuze Fitness, which has seven locations in Colorado. “We came out of it in March and April (2021) and were happy to be getting back to a semi-normal business, but with a big hole to dig out of.”

Gym owners watched over the past year as Congress created deep grant funds for restaurants and venues – two other victims of the pandemic – and all along they asked why not us?

“These other industries have seen relief,” said Robin Jost, owner of eight Planet Fitness locations in Colorado. “We should also get relief.”

Kevin Mohatt, special for The Denver Post

Ashley Poole stands for a portrait at Club Greenwood in Greenwood Village on August 12, 2021. Poole has been a member of the club since 1993.

Something you can rely on

Club Greenwood in Greenwood Village has been around for 34 years and has 7,000 members, according to General Manager Paula Neubert. It lost about 1,200 during the pandemic and its revenue is struggling with.

“We are nowhere near the (pre-pandemic) figures,” said Neubert. “It took us 32 years to get to that point, and then we were back to numbers that we hadn’t seen in years.”

Last spring the club was closed for three months. With the help of the Paycheck Protection Program and members who refused to quit, the club was able to avoid vacation.

“We said, ‘Hell no, let’s keep these people busy, as many as they can.’ We just kept our membership going, ”said Jim O’Toole, a 74-year-old member and self-described gym rat.

Poole compares the gym to Cheers, the fictional bar where everyone knows your name. Some of their darkest days were when it was closed last year. When it opened, she was there, exercising in the parking lot, relieved to be back in a place that feels like a home away from home.

“It’s a sense of belonging, it’s community, it’s well-being,” she said. “You can rely on that.”

But gym owners say that without financial help, customers can’t count on their local gym to be there.

According to the Global Health and Fitness Association, an industry group, 22% of gyms and studios across the country have permanently closed since the pandemic began. 64 percent of those still standing have taken on debts. The average amount is $ 75,000.

Kevin Mohatt, special for The Denver Post

Paula Neubert, General Manager of Club Greenwood, is standing for a portrait in Greenwood Village on August 12, 2021.

“A waiting game”

Last year, the Colorado fitness industry realized it had a policy-making problem – it was “broken,” Brightwell said, and needed to come together. Last August, the Colorado Fitness Coalition formed and then hired a lobbyist, phoned Governor Jared Polis and public health officials, and convinced the state government not to close gyms, even in Level Red counties.

“We, the fitness industry, should have been more proactive with our lobbying efforts than before the pandemic,” said Jost. “You have the Restaurant Association and all these different associations – they have always had lobbyists.”

The National Community Gyms Coalition was formed in the fall, advocating for Congress to make corrections to the PPP program that would have allowed more gyms to benefit (corporate gyms had too many employees to qualify, and small gyms needed help with rent and not payroll). When that failed, the coalition pushed for an aid law similar to that of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Brett Ewer, CrossFit’s Head of Government Relations, was looking for moderate members of Congress.

The result is the bipartisan Gym Mitigation and Survival Act, or GYMS Act, which has 154 supporters in the US House of Representatives and 17 in the US Senate. Including 29 Republicans, more than for bills to support restaurants and concert venues.

Every Colorado Democrat is a co-sponsor with the exception of Senator John Hickenlooper (his spokeswoman said he supported the bill). No Republicans from Colorado support it.

The bill would create a $ 30 billion fund for private gyms. These centers would be given up to $ 25 million to reimburse them for the revenue they lost last year. Companies owned by women, military veterans, and blacks could apply first.

“These were private companies that were told to close for the public good, but there was no support in the backend or not enough support in the backend,” Ewer said. “They should get compensation for doing something for the common good.”

Proponents of the GYMS bill hope it will be added to the $ 3.5 trillion budget adjustment bill and have learned that public policy is a slow job.

Kevin Mohatt, special for The Denver Post

Weights and exercise equipment can be seen at the Greenwood Club in Greenwood Village on August 12, 2021.

“We were in a waiting game,” said Neubert from Club Greenwood. “We have worked, worked, worked and we see laws passed and aid packages passed for a number of industries and we don’t see ours. … We are always pushed aside. “

Even as they work to rebuild income and renew memberships, the Colorado gyms face an uncertain future. The spread of the delta variant across the state and the nation endangers everything.

“To put everyone back into a mask mandate would destroy us,” said Neubert. “It would. It would completely reverse all the efforts we have made since February.”

And for gym members like O’Toole, the closure would mean more than the loss of equipment and courses. For him and his wife, who are West Point alumni, it’s a social space.

“It works well for us and, my god, if it’s not there it’s a shame,” he said.

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