Gym owners push for loosened restrictions

Fitness club weight training equipment. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / lunamarina

A couple of Chatham-Kent gym owners are hoping to get their message across that the fitness industry is being unfairly targeted during the provincial COVID-19 restrictions.

Under the current rules of the provincial “emergency brake” shutdown, gyms have once again been ordered to shut their doors.

The latest shutdown has prompted Dave Miller, owner of Performance 360 Health and Fitness in Chatham, to send a letter to MP Dave Epp, MPP Rick Nicholls, Mayor Darrin Canniff and Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby.

Miller said his goal with the letter is to be the voice for other gym owners as well as to bring awareness to the impact the provincial restrictions have had on the fitness industry and on people who consider gyms to be essential to their well-being.

“It’s getting to the point where people are frustrated,” said Miller. “You’re really questioning what thought process is truly being put into this or is it easy to just keep the small guy down.”

Miller said he was shocked to learn that gyms would once again have to close.

Performance 360 Health and Fitness experienced its first closure in March 2020. Miller said once he was allowed to reopen four months later, he took drastic efforts to create a safe environment, including enhanced cleaning measures.

The efforts also included changes to how he ran the facility including privatizing the club, putting a cap on the number of people allowed to join as well as bundling services and packages to create an all-inclusive experience. The changes also meant he had to raise membership prices.

“We took a risk, we cancelled all our members and invited them to rejoin under our new business model,” he explained.

Blenheim’s Postma Fitness owner, Ricky Postma, said just like Miller, he’s spent the last year coming up with creative ways to adapt to the restrictions.

“We’ve put in lots of work to not only make sure our gym is in our situation where people can use our facility and not have to worry but also having to pivot and create different platforms to still be able to service our clients,” he explained.

Postma said he believes the importance of gyms and the fitness industry has been overlooked over the past year. He added that it’s more important now than ever for people to have an outlet to focus on their physical and mental health.

“I feel like it reflects where we are as a society. Our health and healthy habits have not been something that we are taking care of,” said Postma. “For all these fast food and liquor stores to be open during this entire time and to say that gyms are spreading [COVID-19] and we’re a part of the problem is not true.”

While some people may be to get their physical activity elsewhere, like inside their own home or by going outside, Miller argued that it’s not that easy for everybody.

“There’s that push that people can get outside and exercise but that’s not what everybody needs,” he said. “A lot of people need to come in and work under the guidance of a trainer or be in the greater social atmosphere. There’s a lot of things that contribute towards somebody’s mental health or wellbeing. ”

Miller said he understands that the municipal officials he has addressed his letter don’t have the final say on what’s open or what’s closed. However, he’s hoping his actions encourage them to use their voices to do more to help small businesses that have been forced to shut down.

Dr. Colby said his hands are tied when it comes to loosening province-wide restrictions.

“I sympathize with the plight of fitness facility operators but this is a provincial directive, informed by the advice of experts and province-wide experience,” explained Colby. “As a local medical officer of health, I do not have the discretion to overrule these restrictions.”

Previously, Miller wrote a letter when Chatham-Kent entered the Red-Contol Zone of the province’s reopening plan. Under the Red-Control restrictions, gyms were allowed up to 10 people in areas with weight and exercise machines and 10 people in indoor classes.

While several other industries were allowed to operate a percentage capacity, Miller said he believes the restrictions on gym owners continue to be unfair considering many fitness facilities can be upwards of 10,000 square feet.

“Health clubs have been on the short end of the stick,” said Miller. “We’ve been the first to close and the last to open. Some businesses have been allowed to adapt, some can provide take-out or curbside pickup. Some of us have been completely left in the dark.”