We spoke with the owners of four Philly fitness studios about the city’s decision to delay gym openings until at least August 1st.
When Governor Wolf announced that 12 Southeastern Pennsylvania counties — including Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Bucks — would be moving to the green phase on June 26th, local officials decided the city’s green status would be delayed until “probably” July 3rd, so long as daily case counts continued to decrease. This gave hope to gym owners, as fitness studios were [originally] allowed to reopen once given the green light.
But then Philly saw a steady uptick in positive COVID-19 cases. In response, health commissioner Thomas Farley scaled back the city’s green phase, prohibiting the once-allowed indoor fitness (among other activities) from resuming. During the June 30th press conference, Farley said these changes were made due to rising case trends in other states, as well as the high-risk viral transmission that can come when “people are inside, close together, and not wearing masks” (ya know, like that COVID-positive gym-goer who may have exposed over 200 people at a West Virginia Planet Fitness in a single day). Gym owners — whose businesses have been closed since March 16th, and have been diligently prepping their reopening plans — must now keep their doors shut through at least August 1st.
In light of the news, we chatted with four local fitness studio owners about their original plans to reopen, their thoughts on the month-long delay, and their strategies moving forward.
Philadelphia magazine: How were you preparing to reopen [on the expected July 6th date]?
Jaime Sutton, owner of J’aime Fitness: “For each of our locations, we have put several new safety measures in place, including:
- Commercial-grade equipment wipes and hand sanitizer throughout the studios.
- A no-contact infrared thermometer will be administered to every instructor and class participant each day.
- Contactless class sign-in.
- Mandatory pre-registration for class No walk-ins will be permitted.
- Classes will cap at six members (eight for HIIT yoga).
- Class participants will receive their own designated “space” and equipment.
- Classes will be scheduled at least 30 minutes apart to ensure additional cleaning measures can be handled between classes.
- Masks must be worn when in the studio, but are optional while exercising.
- Masks will be required for instructors at all times while in the studio.
- For the time being, no use of showers will be permitted.
- Professional cleaning services (that were in place since we opened) will be increased.
- Mats will not be offered by the studio for the time being.
[Sutton, continued]: In addition to these safety measures, our entire schedule was revamped to allow time for more cleaning measures, post-class cleaning checklists were created, we retrained all of our instructors to adhere to the new protocols, and we purchased additional equipment (like a new barre to better space people). Several weeks of work and a lot of restructuring went into preparing to reopen.”
What were your initial reactions to Farley’s most recent announcement?
Joe Swoyer, co-owner of F45 Training Center City: “I find it disappointing that a casino can open and operate, yet a fitness studio — following CDC guidelines, boosting immune systems, and improving physical and mental health — cannot. Keeping fitness studios shut down this long is detrimental, as so many Philadelphians lack the equipment and space to exercise effectively in their own homes.”
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Sutton: “I have mixed feelings. There is no question that saving lives from COVID-19 is more important than group fitness classes. What frustrates me is that boutique studios like mine are being penalized for doing exactly what was asked of us. We closed, we waited, we put new policies in place, and yet we’re being bulked in with huge gyms as a threat. Cases are going up, but boutique studios aren’t open, so how can it be determined that we are the problem? Not to mention, high-contact and arguably high-risk businesses like casinos are allowed to open, but we aren’t. That makes no sense to us. We believe that six people limited to classes should be classified as personal services, not a gym.”
Promislo: “The announcement didn’t affect us in any way because we didn’t intend to open when we turned green anyway. As much as we want to be back in the studio and see our riders, we just don’t want to open until we think the time is right. We have put all the proper protocols in place to keep it as safe as possible, but now we just need to feel comfortable that the things out of our control are safe. We aren’t going to put our riders or team in any compromising position, and we just don’t feel confident that it’s safe to open our studio yet.”
How are you shifting in light of the delay?
Benhaim: “We immediately had to cancel our reservations and adjust our class schedule to be fully live-stream only. This involved coordinating with our teaching staff because we had to convert some classes from in-studio to live-stream. Then, we had to communicate to all of our clients that, unfortunately, we would not be able to reopen on July 6th as planned. It was disappointing, but we pivoted.”
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As you might have seen, the opening of fitness studios in Philadelphia has been pushed back to August 1st. While all of us at Lumos are disappointed that we cannot reopen as planned, what is most important is the safety and health of everyone who makes up our community. ⠀ ⠀ As of now, we have pushed back offering our in-studio classes until August 1st. As the city provides new information and guidelines, we will adjust accordingly. ⠀ ⠀ For now, head to our website for the latest livestream schedule (linked in profile), and be sure to check out our newsletter for all the latest updates (sneak peek in Stories).⠀ ⠀ A huge thanks also to all our amazing instructors and clients for your flexibility. We really appreciate your understanding and can’t wait for the day we can welcome you all back to Green Street!⠀ ⠀ ⠀ #Lumos #LumosFitness #PhillyFitFam #BeWellPhilly #BeWellPhillyPhoto #BarrePHL #PhillyYoga #PhillyYogis #PhillySmallBusiness #WomanOwnedBusiness #PhillyFitness #SupportSmallBusinesses #PhillyBarre #BodyNeutralFitness #ShopSmall
Promislo: “We are continuously trying to improve our live-streaming classes because we anticipate that will be our way of teaching for a while. To help with the technological hiccups, most of our instructors now teach from the studio instead of from their own homes. Outside of offering classes, we are hosting a biweekly film club to keep our community connected and informed [about social justice issues]. We already virtually gathered to discuss When They See Us, and we’ll be talking about the documentary 13th this Tuesday night.”
In what ways will this delay impact your business?
Swoyer: “I’ll start with the negatives, because it’s often hard to find positives with many small businesses in financial ruin. Many of our expenses continue to accrue, even if we are able to defer payment temporarily. We had to lay off our staff since we have generated very little revenue these past four months, and the government’s assistance is ending soon. Additionally, the constant waffling on what is safe has induced paranoia and fear in many people. As for the silver linings: The virtual F45 workouts, which didn’t exist just a few months ago, will be a welcome perk to our members who are traveling or working, but don’t want to lose ground right in the middle of one of our eight-week challenges. Plus, we have the most phenomenal member support. Our Center City community has been staying connected throughout this entire pandemic.”
Benhaim: On the positive side, we are still able to engage with our community through live-streamed classes, and everyone has been incredibly supportive and very understanding of the fact that this is out of our control. The negative is that financially, our operating expenses stay the same for a fourth month in a row while our revenue is a fraction of what it was pre-COVID. We’ve gotten creative with new sources of revenue like moving our retail online, selling some of our used props, and building an on demand platform to help account for this loss, but that mainly helps us cover payroll expenses because we decided to pay our teaching staff as close to normal as we could for the first six weeks of closure, followed by paying for every live-streamed class taught. We want to make sure we’re helping take care of our amazing team of instructors as best we can, and will continue to do so during this delay.”