On March 16th last year city of Philadelphia ordered all nonessential businesses to shut down. As the lock down hit, fitness studios found themselves in unfamiliar territory. Owners tried to hustle by renting out equipment to clients and introducing virtual classes, but this wasn’t enough to save most of them. Most of the studios in the Centre City business district have now been shut down permanently.
The lockdown affected not only business but also instructors and personal trainers as guys and fitness studios closed down. Many trainers were left to fend for themselves. Shannon Brennan, a former boxing coach at Rumble, said, “It was crushing to get laid off last April, but the pandemic gave me the opportunity to take a step back from studio life, which can be exhausting, and to create my own business, I worked so hard to give myself and my clients security for a year. Going back to teaching classes when gyms started to open would’ve meant dropping clients who were there for me when the studio and indoor classes weren’t.”
Many businesses were allowed to reopen when the city partially opened into the yellow phase in June of 2020, but gyms, fitness and yoga studios of all sizes were forced to remain closed. This led to Philadelphia Independent Training Facility Coalition Petition Governor Tom Wolf to allow small personal-training gyms and boutique fitness studios to open in limited numbers, but the request was denied. However, this led to Philadelphia COVID-19 Restaurant and Gym Relief Program, which granted up to $15,000 aid to independently owned fitness studios. While the program was a step in the right direction, it was also too little, too late as most had shut and moved on. “Unfortunately, it came at a time when so many businesses had already shut their doors, and while I’m not saying that this grant alone would have saved a business, I do believe some businesses would have been able to stay afloat if there had been grants available earlier on, like there were for other industries.” says BPM Fitness owner Shoshana Katz.
Many fitness studio and gym owners have accepted concept of “collaboration over competition” to help one another survive. Post lockdown, Philadelphia fitness centres together hosted their grand return to workouts with Philly Fitness Week 10-day program, that offered discounted classes and packages. Despite all the promotion and offers, enrolments in fitness studios are still below 50% attendance when compared to pre-pandemic numbers. As the industry creeps back toward stability, McKay says “there’s a segment of the population that simply will not go to a studio at this time, and that’s beyond anyone’s control.”
As most studios struggle to open up, many trainers used this opportunity to create business of their own through online virtual classes and consultations. Shannon Brennan says “It was crushing to get laid off last April, but the pandemic gave me the opportunity to take a step back from studio life, which can be exhausting, and to create my own business, I worked so hard to give myself and my clients security for a year. Going back to [teaching] classes when gyms started to open would’ve meant dropping clients who were there for me when the studio and indoor classes weren’t.”