December 8, 2021

Reopening of gyms on hold because of virus concerns

Phase 4 proves a heavy lift

Kevin L. Smith/staff reporter

Noah Beck, director of the Cortland County YMCA, disinfects a treadmill Wednesday in the fitness center of the YMCA building on Tompkins Street in Cortland. Gyms and fitness facilities are still awaiting a go from the state to reopen.

It’s been four months.

Ozzy Stephens would like to get back to work helping people get back to workouts.

But as Cortland and Central New York enter Phase 4 of the coronavirus pandemic reopening, gyms, theaters and malls have been left back because of the safety concerns of large numbers of people in enclosed spaces, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week.

“For me as a business owner, it’s unfortunate,” said Stephens, owner of the Cortland Fitness Center at the Marketplace Mall on Main Street in Cortland. “I’m at a loss here and have been so for the past four months.”

“It has been disappointing to say the least,” said Dana Murdock, owner of Seven Valley CrossFit, also on Main Street, Cortland. “Other businesses have opened around us, but we’re still waiting.”

Some gym owners thought they’d re-open in earlier phases.

Phase 4 was supposed to be the time they could welcome back members inside, but fitness centers were not considered.

“We were caught off guard. We’ve been getting mixed messages,” said Janine Franco, owner of Vine Health and Fitness.

“We know that our local gyms can re-open safely,” said Bob Haight, president of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve been working as close as possible to get the gyms open.”

Some gyms, like Seven Valley CrossFit, were able to get a grant from the federal Small Business Administration. However, Murdock said, that money will run out soon.

“We’ve lost a ton of revenue,” she said. “It’s been a 50% loss for each month of the closing. It’s significant.”

“Money isn’t coming in for the gym,” Stephens said. “I take money from my other businesses to keep it afloat. I’m taking it day-by-day. There’s no way to make any money. You don’t know where the stars align.”

“People have even asked me if they can buy equipment to help me out,” he added.

Murdock said once her CrossFit business closed in March, the workouts were pivoted to an online format.

“It wasn’t the same,” she said. “Most of our clients just want the in-person training.”

Despite not being able to offer indoor workouts, facilities like the Cortland County YMCA have been able to begin outdoor programs. “We have a gym, but we don’t have a gym,” said Noah Beck, director of the Cortland County YMCA. “It’s our mission to keep going.”

Vine Health and Fitness is looking to incorporate outdoor activities, too.

“We have to start something fun for people,” Franco said. “It just gets people moving and people in a safe manner.”

Haight was helped to guide gyms in the area to look into more outdoor classes as they continue to wait and see when the indoor aspect of their business is allowed to be opened.

“We have given them advice on how to do outdoor classes, but we also want them to do social distancing as we attempt to get gyms open indoors,” he said.

The businesses will also look to reduce class hours and sizes, make sure workout stations are well-spaced, take temperature of staff and gym members, and protection with filtration systems like air conditioning to avoid contamination.

“We’re 100% up on these protocols,” Beck said.

It’s hard to see people exercising with masks on, Stephens said. “But I don’t want to get involved with someone being sick. If you’re not wearing a mask, you’re not coming into the gym.”

But there’s still the wait.

“There’s no end in sight,” Franco said. “It could be a couple of weeks or a couple of months. We just wish gyms would have an idea when they would be open.”