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Why gyms in New York City are struggling

NYC's fitness industry fears collapse after seventeen months of being shut and covid-19 restrictions

A Solidcore fitness center in New York.
A Solidcore fitness center in New York. (Bloomberg)

Members of New York City’s fitness industry say they’re on the verge of collapse without assistance after seventeen months entirely shut or operating under restrictions as the pandemic rages on. 

The city’s fitness club owners and operators are asking for federal aid as Covid-19 variants spread and business is slow to rebound. More than 300 companies, including The Fhitting Room Holding Company, Barry’s and CrossFit, wrote to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer Wednesday requesting a portion of the $25 billion of funds recently allocated to the Small Business Committee in the federal budget framework. Schumer, a Democrat, represents New York.

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“We are on the verge of collapse,” the group wrote, further urging support for the Gyms Act introduced in Congress. “Our revenues are down, our landlords want their money, many of our clients have relocated or are hesitant to workout in-person and we’re finding it impossible to hire staff.”

The fitness industry is trying to regain its strength after the pandemic upended Americans’ exercise habits. While lockdowns were a boon for home-based exercise companies such as Peloton Interactive Inc., in-person gyms were hit hard. About 22% of fitness facilities that operated in the U.S. prior to the pandemic were forced to shut permanently, according to the industry lobbying group. 

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The number is even higher in New York City after a full year of mandated closures, the group said. Without financial relief for back-dated rent and 17 months of “little to no revenue with a slower than anticipated rebound due to the new Delta variant, our industry is sure to be decimated,” they added. 

Companies that rode out the pandemic say business bounced back somewhat, with the return of in-person classes in recent months -- aided by increasing vaccination rates -- helping bring back some customers.

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But about 40% of studios in New York City shut their doors for good after the closure mandate, according to the United States Fitness Coalition. In New York City, gyms were allowed to reopen on Sept. 2 last year at a third capacity, but group classes remained shuttered.

Fitness and wellness studio Align Brooklyn hasn’t been able to re-open since the company shut its doors in March 2020. The company lost revenue and wasn’t able to keep up with rent payments, forcing it to leave its physical location in Park Slope.

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“Every other business was allowed to re-open in our area, at least partially, last year. But we couldn’t,” Pamela Brown, co-founder and chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview. The company went virtual but lost members who preferred an in-person experience, she said.

“We’re starting in a climate where people are afraid to come in and exercise, sharing air,” Brown said. “We know fitness is a key piece of building strong immune systems and fighting Covid, so it’s odd we have been closed down for longer than any industry and haven’t received a dime of relief.”

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