Cancelling holiday parties is one thing, but having to shut down your business for the fourth time in the past two years is particularly demoralizing for Trail gym owners Andrew van der Ham and Dallas Calvin.
The frustrated owners of Elevate Athletics complied with the Dec. 18 Provincial Health Order that shut down gyms, night clubs, dance studios, and banned indoor organized and social gatherings from Dec. 23 to Jan. 18 at the earliest.
“It’s been super frustrating because we’ve hit shutdown and restriction after restriction for the last two years,” said van der Ham. “For the last three months it had been going great. We were finally in a position where we were getting back on track after everything we’d lost. The vibe was great, lots of new members, it was just awesome.
“Then all of a sudden, boom we’re shut down again, and all our momentum is crushed.”
Many gyms across BC flouted the PHO order and stayed open last week, asking the province to designate gyms as essential services.
In Cranbrook, Fitness Inc. decided to keep their doors open despite the mandated closure after several of their members pointed to mental health struggles. The fitness centre received a fine from police for staying open on Dec. 24, and have since closed their doors.
While many gyms have openly refused to follow PHO orders, Elevate hasn’t quite reached that point. Elevate has and will continue to follow protocols, but Calvin agrees that closing gyms is a detriment to his clients’ physical and mental well being.
“I see thousands of people walking through the mall on Boxing Day in Kelowna, but you can’t have 12 people in a class inside a 10,000 square-foot building,” said Calvin. “People need gyms. The amount that gyms and physical activity help people with their mental health more than anything is just incredible.”
Earlier in the pandemic they taped down squares that ensured gym-goers remained six feet apart, loaded every station with sanitizers, ensured people were masked, checked vaccine passports, followed capacity guidelines, and bookings so they could clean surfaces between workouts.
The PHO orders do not take into consideration more isolated communities, those with lower rates of infection, and gyms that cater to fewer clientele.
“I feel like we’re grouped in with a Gold’s Gym or 24-7 Fitness where they have 50, 60 or 100 people working out at the same time say in Vancouver or wherever,” said Calvin. “Where we are a small gym in a small town, where our class sizes are 12 people and our other gym we usually don’t have more than 10 people in our space.”
What is even more baffling for the Elevate owners is that the PHO restrictions allow for restaurants, pubs, and other businesses to remain open, as well as activities such as swimming lessons, Aquafit classes, and organized sport to go ahead.
“I don’t want to see other businesses close either, but just give us some guidelines on what you want done. We’ve done it three times before so it’s not a big deal.”
January is also typically the busiest time in the industry as New Year’s resolutions usher people back to the gym.
“It was an opportunity for us to recover some of the financials that we’ve lost over the last few years being shut down and limited. It’s so frustrating.”
The province provided some relief with its COVID-19 Closure Relief Grant that offers businesses a minimum of $1,000 for no employees, $2,000 for 1-to-4 employees, $5,000 for 5-to-99, to a maximun of $10,000 for businesses with 100 employees or more.
It also doesn’t help staff, who are temporarily laid off, not knowing if the Jan. 18 deadline will be extended and for how long. For Elevate, rehiring and retaining staff will also be more difficult, as confidence working in the fitness industry will likely hit an all-time low.
“It’s hard because a lot of us gyms are independently owned, small businesses,” said van der Ham. “We don’t have the financial backing of Club 16 or Gold’s or other gyms in the city. This is our career, this is our livelihood. We’re not big.”
While Calvin and van der Ham recognize the health risks with the growing incidents of COVID, they would like to be given the opportunity to stay open and put a plan in place that is effective and safe.
Otherwise, it’s a high price to pay, not only for the employers, but for staff and patrons alike.
“Our job is to help people be healthy and provide an outlet for their mental health, for their physical health whatever it is that they need they can get it here, and they can’t get it anywhere else,” added van der Ham. “Now that has been taken away.”