COVID-19: B.C. fitness businesses struggle to plan reopening

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VICTORIA — Fitness centres, yoga studios and recreation facilities face an uncertain future because of the pandemic, but are hoping to be included in the potential slow reboot of the B.C. economy next month.

“It’s been very difficult,” said Colin Whyte, owner of Cliffhanger Indoor Rock Climbing Centre in Vancouver. “We’ve seen ebbs and flows in the economy, and we got through 2008 and so on. But no one was prepared for this.”

Health officials ordered fitness businesses closed in mid-March, along with many other businesses, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

For Whyte, that’s meant rent and insurance costs of $1,000 a day and the loss of 29 of his 30 staff. There are so few insurance providers willing to insure a high-risk climbing facility that Whyte fears if he tries to save money by cancelling or pausing his insurance he might never get it back.

Instead, he’s burned through his savings and applied for a $40,000 interest-free federal emergency business loan. Small business grants would be better, he added.

Unlike restaurants, which could at least earn some cash through takeout or delivery, many personal fitness businesses have seen their cash flow shrink to zero. Using the wage subsidy programs to provide 75 per cent salary in a business that are shuttered with zero income make little sense, said Whyte.

“We want to get operating and we’re prepared to do what it takes, even if it’s just on a break-even level,” said Whyte. “If we have to cut the number of people that come into our facility on a daily basis just to keep social distancing in play, as long as we can hobble on until there’s a vaccine we’ll be OK.”

A few fitness studios have been able to leverage otherwise unused gear to generate revenue. Indoor spin studios like Eastwood Cycle, Spinhouse Cycling Studios and Ride Cycle Club rented their stationary bikes to customers so they can participate in online group workouts from home.

Reopening fitness facilities will require a dedication to constant cleaning because customers sweat on, and touch, a variety of equipment and surfaces while exercising. COVID-19 is transmitted by fluids left on surfaces. The fear is that sweat, particularly if it is rolling off the face, could pick up the coronavirus from a person’s mouth and nose.