Arne Jackson couldn’t help but feel anxious as his Anytime Fitness franchise in Sidney reopened Monday morning.
“The whole thing is, you want to make sure that you have done everything that you possibly can to make people feel comfortable,” he said. “You want to make sure that people recognize that you have taken all these precautions. But then you are always thinking, ‘Is there something else I could have done?’ What kind of reception are we going to get?’”
The initial demand for Jackson’s gym was tentative, with just a handful of people waiting outside the doors Monday morning. But as the day progressed, Jackson’s anxiety started to drop as he began to receive positive feedback.
“I’m glad that the B.C. government had the vision to let us open at this stage,” he said. “I’m very appreciative of them taking that step, and judging from the members’ reaction of being able to come back and work out again, I think most members will feel the same way that I do.”
But this feeling comes with caveats. For more than two months, the business did not generate any revenue, far from ideal for any business, but even less so for a business that had only opened in the fall of 2019.
When the provincial government allowed gyms to reopen during this second phase of the pandemic recovery, Jackson found himself in a race against time.
“So the week or week and a half prior to opening was a real panic to get all the measures in place, so that we could open for the 25th,” he said.
For starters, the gym can only operate at 50 per cent of its 20-person maximum capacity.
Other measures include large Plexiglas dividers that separate pieces of equipment as well as create physical barriers in parts of the business. Signs urging users to maintain their physical distance and follow hygiene protocols appear throughout the business, and users must also come prepared to work out right away as the business is trying to minimize the use of the change room area.
“The whole idea is to minimize how long people are in the gym,” said Jackson.
The entire gym is also subject to a rigorous cleaning regime that uses disinfectant shown to kill the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as specialized equipment with which staff can reach every nook and cranny of equipment. Users must also undergo a tutorial and receive personalized cleaning supplies as they enter the facility.
In short, a lot of measures are in place and Jackson thinks they will be here for a while.
“Those measures are going to continue, so it’s impacting us from a cost perspective, with additional staff, additional cleaning supplies, hand sanititizers, just the awareness programs — it all costs money,” he said.
Jackson said the long-term consequences of the lockdown on his business remain to be determined. “We don’t know how many members will want to continue to freeze their accounts,” he said. “For our members, we just froze their accounts, so that there is no payment taken out.”
Jackson said the long-term impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the fitness industry depends on whether the novel virus that has caused the pandemic returns in the fall.
“That is what everybody is thinking,” he said. “Come this fall, are we in for another round. I think that will have a major impact on all businesses, not just gyms, if that happens.”
For Misha Sood, Monday’s reopening brought a sigh of relief. “I was so happy,” she said. “I was craving for it to be back and I feel safe.”
Sood welcomed the various measures in place as something that not only benefits users like herself, but also others in the gym, including staff.
“I’m in the love with the staff,” she said.
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