Small Business Spotlight: Gyms Feel Weight of the Pandemic 13 Months Later
By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — While people start to think about getting in shape for the summer, fitness gyms are struggling to stay open.
Indoor fitness classes in New York City are allowed at 33 percent capacity. Outside of the city, gyms may increase their capacities from 33 percent to 50 percent on May 15. Many gym owners say it’s not enough to sustain as the COVID-19 pandemic nears its 14th month.
“Right now, we offer in-person classes but also online classes as well and some people do both,” said Katie Muehlenkamp, Brooklyn franchisee of The Bar Method with locations in Cobble Hill and Williamsburg.
On the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, Muehlenkamp told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso that online classes have only supplemented her revenue.
“I generally find that people either prefer one or the other,” she said. “People who come back in-person generally just do the in-person, because they feel and see the value of being in-person much more.”
Muehlenkamp, a former competitive gymnast and instructor at the company’s flagship studio in San Francisco, said online classes can only work for a “small subset of people” because The Bar Method requires more space than a Brooklyn studio apartment. It consists of isometric exercise; small motions work targeted muscles to build strength.
She also said in-person classes offer a sense of camaraderie and accountability for one’s fitness goals that her clients are “craving.”
“We’re human beings. We have a fundamental desire to be around other people and fitness is just one aspect of it,” Muehlenkamp said.
But right now, The Bar Method hosts less than 40 classes a week with 10 people max. Pre-pandemic, they ran 80 in-person classes with up to 30 people in each class. They are now offering meditation classes at the Williamsburg location as clients seek mental health services to cope with the pandemic.
“I think there’s a huge generational group that’s looking for those outlets,” she said, noting other gym owners are launching adjacent health and wellness services.
Muehlenkamp is advocating for the GYMS Act of 2021, which would authorize the U.S. Small Business Administration to make initial and supplemental grants to privately owned fitness gyms that have struggled in the pandemic.
She received two Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to pay employees and the SBA provided relief on business loans she obtained to open her franchises. But, the biggest sense of relief came when her landlords agreed to reduce her rents.
“I think they get it. I mean these are smart people,” Muehlenkamp said, acknowledging her landlords have their own financial obligations.
She said she approaches her negotiations with full disclosure and candor.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Okay, well if you don’t lower it to about the amount that I’m talking about, this business isn’t viable. Here’s my financial statements. I’m not hiding anything. This is the situation,'” Muehlenkamp explained.
While she feels uncertain about the fitness industry’s future, Muehlenkamp told Connolly and Carousso she is encouraged by new small businesses that are catering to current market needs.
Watch the Small Business Spotlight video above for more advice for fitness gyms and other hard-hit industries.