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Group fitness studios are suffering because they’re being lumped in with gyms and bars. I’m inviting the Ontario government to try a class to see how…

Posted: October 15, 2020 at 5:54 pm


Business owners dont choose entrepreneurship with aspirations for an easy life. Entrepreneurship, they know, is the path less travelled for a reason: its risky.

For Toronto business owners, especially those who own or work in Torontos group fitness studios, 2020 presented a series of obstacles that no business plan or fiscal savviness could have prepared them for the coronavirus pandemic.

Imagine spending years working hours that far exceed a traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in order to bring a studio to life with an initial start-up cost that often exceeds $500,000, only to lose everything in the span of a few months. That is, unfortunately, the reality we now face.

Just as group fitness centres seemed to be gaining some positive momentum with a reopening in August following a five month closure, the Ontario government placed a 10-person capacity on group fitness in a 24-hour notice on October 2. The classes that were originally designed to bring up to 50 people together in one room, were suddenly stripped down to a number that most studios would have surpassed after a few weeks of first opening.

Then, the devastating blow one that will prove to be fatal. Once again, group fitness studios have been asked to close their doors to the public, lumped in alongside gyms, indoor dining, and bars.

Its important to note that group fitness studios and commercial gyms are very different. Group fitness studios offer a highly curated and controlled experience led thoughtfully by an instructor from start to finish, which results in monitored and protective measures throughout the entire experience. Equipment is not shared between patrons during workouts, and our cleaning protocols are rigorous and frequent. Which leads us to the question, why is the government targeting group fitness?

Why are our studios being placed in the same high-risk category as hospitality venues and gyms? Where is the evidence to support that our environments have placed our members and the greater public at risk? Why is there no case by case considerations?

When our fitness studios remained dormant from March 15 to August 1, our teams worked tirelessly to keep our communities engaged and supported. Studios leveraged (and over-leveraged) all their available resources to pivot with online offerings, in an effort to provide their members with virtual classes. From yoga to boxing, spin, functional fitness, strength training, mobility, dance and so much more, we watched our communities rally together in real-time, united by the desire to provide the Toronto public with ways to move and prioritize their well-being.

As incredible as it was to witness the adaptation to the new normal, we couldnt help but to acknowledge the elephant in the room it wasnt enough. Commercial rent relief was difficult to arrange with reluctant landlords. Deferrals left business owners with a sense of dread that increased exponentially with each passing month. From a revenue standpoint, virtual offerings, though needed and appreciated by members, simply did not justify the same premium price as in-person classes. For many, the cost of running these programs while trying to keep instructors on payroll was, if anything, eating away at their bottom line even further. And for studio owners who never even took a salary while working relentlessly to support and grow their business, the question became, at what cost can we reasonably continue?

Throughout all of this time since the pandemic hit, weve pivoted, made modifications, and invested money we didnt have in order to make it work. When we got a little bit of relief on August 1, as group fitness studios finally reopened, owners invested $10,000 $20,000 towards every available precaution, including Plexiglas installations, temperature readers, hospital-grade cleaning equipment, and electrostatic sprayers. Adhering to social distancing guidelines within rooms meant to fit 20 to 50 people was, of course, a challenge, but we circumvented. We sacrificed in order to show up for our communities.

Our disappointment with the decision of lumping us as a service that needs to be closed arrives not only with economic considerations, but social considerations as well. Group fitness studios arent just businesses they are communities. They represent a critical resource for those who rely on the mental and physical benefits of exercise in direct correlation with the maintenance of their mental health and physical fitness. The expansive impact group fitness has on health and well-being of the Toronto community (or any community, for that matter) should not be understated.

As classes resumed in August, many participants left class with tears in their eyes, sharing how badly they needed the experience of being in that room again. So we ask, how are our studios not essential? Is the aim of all of this not to prioritize and protect the health of the general public? What will Toronto look like if, following another lockdown, the very businesses and experiences which brought people to our city in the first place, no longer exist?

Moreover, have we truly considered the extensive fallout from these decisions, ranging from mental health issues to drug use, suicides, unemployment rates, household debt, and business bankruptcy? Literature shows that large-scale disasters, whether traumatic or natural, are almost always accompanied by increases in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder, a broad range of other mental and behavioural disorders, domestic violence, and child abuse. Are we working to prevent these negative outcomes? The group fitness industry is built upon the belief that health is worth advocating for and, right now, we are trying desperately to do that. We know how much our businesses and communities matter to those we serve.

This isnt simply a worst-case scenario, it is one we never imagined facing. At least, not again, especially when we consider the lack of evidence weve seen to collectively identify group fitness studios, specifically, as a high-risk environment. Many of our studios havent had a single case and, those few who have, proactively addressed and contained it while abiding by all recommended protocols and keeping their communities informed. Are other spaces so well equipped to identify, trace, and control a potential outbreak?

And so, with these latest restrictions in place and rumours of a second lockdown that stretches well into the winter swirling, we have to ask what is the plan? Currently, business owners are left without the support they so desperately need. Credit is still being destroyed, banks are still collecting, and landlords can still evict us if we are unable to scrape together our astronomical monthly rent, as commercial rent relief has come to an end. We dont have the option to simply opt-out of a multi-year lease in favour of a virtual format without severe, potentially lifelong financial ramifications.

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For any member of the government who has not experienced our spaces (and the extensive safety measures we have put in place) first-hand, we invite you to visit. We would love to have you, and we are entirely confident that you would gain a new understanding of what we are trying to accomplish, and how safely we are going about it. If you still feel that these new restrictions are the best option forward, then we ask what support are you willing to provide to keep us alive? How can you help to carry studio owners through the most challenging and disheartening of economic scenarios, so they can continue to serve their communities in the future?

We arent just running out of time the time is up. We need your support, and we need it now.

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Group fitness studios are suffering because they're being lumped in with gyms and bars. I'm inviting the Ontario government to try a class to see how...

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