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Gyms in the time of Covid-19

It’s been nearly two months since Governor Jay Inslee declared an economic shutdown for Washington to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Since then, Spring 2020 quarter is now well under way for most colleges. By now, most of us students have probably figured out our new routines for unexpectedly having a full schedule of online classes. For me, part of that routine has been to make sure I also have time for physical exercise. But even that part of my daily life has been disrupted, as gyms have been closed as part of the economic shutdown, and will undoubtedly remain so for at least the rest of May. As many of us struggle with trying to figure out how to replicate the convenience we once had of a clean facility to exercise in, whether it was the Seattle Central facilities or a gym somewhere else, it can be easy to forget about the lives of the people who run those businesses. A lot of gyms strictly offer martial arts classes, requiring consistent contact with another person, currently considered an extreme social taboo. 

As the days smooth over into weeks and will soon become months, the stark reality of continuing to rent a space without the income generated from dues-paying members becomes ever darker for gym-owners across Washington state and the country. Revenue for gyms is mostly dependent on members paying monthly fees to use the space and attend classes, and businesses who have closed their doors can’t keep collecting fees from all their members if they can’t provide a service. So what are our gyms doing in this time to stay afloat?

I spoke with two gym-owners in Seattle about the nuanced complications of running a business based on physical exercise and contact with others during the shutdown. Tricia Turton runs the Arcaro Boxing gym in the Central District at 12th & Jefferson Ave, and Bob Heinemann runs Seattle Integrated Martial Arts (SIMA) in West Seattle located at 4159 Fauntleroy Way SW. 

One thing that seems to have potentially aided in the transition to Covid-19 awareness was that boxing and martial arts gyms already practice excellent hygiene precautions in their day-to-day business. While many businesses may have had to make drastic changes to their daily operations in an effort to keep all surfaces clean, gyms frequently keep surfaces and equipment clean and sanitized between uses. 

Turton says they were ready to follow the state’s guidelines at Arcaro Boxing Gym once they started coming in. “The biggest change for us was the recommendation to have 10 [people] or less gathered. We allowed 3 people to train every hour. They had to use sanitizer before signing onto an IPAD and they had to wash their hands after their training.” Impressively, Arcaro Boxing Gym was able and willing to follow the guidelines to every detail, maximizing potential for working out and health alike. “They [gym-members] had to pick their equipment and area to train in and stick to that area. Prior to leaving the area, they had to thoroughly disinfect. We observed 6 feet distance, including coaches. We kept doing our one-on-one training [while] also observing 6 feet distance. We constantly disinfected all handles and countertops and the bathroom.”

Heinemann at SIMA says they “stayed open for a bit longer than when [public] schools got closed as we were consulting with a few of our students who were working in hospitals and such.” This sentiment echoes a strong ethos in martial arts, that no one is ever above listening to an expert in a different field. SIMA is a unique physical fitness gym but similar to many other martial arts academies where there are multiple arts taught by sometimes different instructors, and you’re likely to attend a class alongside someone who will instruct the one following. The lesson here is that no one is above learning from someone else, and that the experts in their fields are always worth listening to first. In this case, those experts here are the nurses and doctors working on the frontlines in hospitals.

While both Turton & Heinemann’s gyms might have been more prepared to physically adapt to cleanliness measures and social distancing, the financial burden is undoubtedly something no one has been able to prepare for, unless you’re a trader on the stock exchange selling your shares right before the economic meltdown hit. Turton tells me she’s had to lay off 3 out of 4 of her employers, and Heinemann had to lay off his entire staff. Heinemann says he’s “still waiting on the SBA (small business administration) loan application.” If he qualifies, he says he can resume paying his small staff. “Otherwise, everyone is ‘furloughed’. It’s super frustrating because I don’t know what to tell them to do.”

Turton says she’s been able to continue paying the salary of one of her full-time workers, but to afford this she’s had to take a significant pay cut. “I committed to one employee to pay a guaranteed salary and I am keeping my word. He is the only one solely dependent on this income for his bills and his wife is laid off.”

While different grants have been made available for small businesses like Arcaro and SIMA, they’re not always accessible and they don’t always cover all the bases. SIMA has gotten at least one rejection letter from the City of Seattle. “I honestly can’t remember which loan it was as I’ve applied for many of them,” Heinemann tells me. Turton however had received money from a grant from the city, yet it was only enough to help pay rent, taxes, and the wages for her single employee and herself for one month. 

Last Friday, Jay Inslee announced that the stay-at-home order would continue throughout the rest of May, with the potential for slowly rolling back towards the end of the month. It’s safe to say we won’t be able to expect returning to our gyms by the end of the month, and that the economic worries for our beloved spaces of exercise and mental retreat have just begun. As you find new methods for staying healthy and in-shape at home, whether it’s lifting weights, running, shadow-boxing, or trying to teach your roommates how to box, don’t forget about the people who taught you all that you know. If it weren’t for the countless physical instructors in our city who have devoted their time to bettering us, we wouldn’t have anything to fall back on in this trying time in regards to taking responsibility for our own fitness. They’ve given so much to us, yet there might not be much time left to give back to them.

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