Marla Thornton described Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to allow gyms in Georgia to reopen a month ago as “a sigh of relief.”
Thornton, owner of Oakwood Training and Fitness in Oakwood, is one of many local gym owners who are becoming accustomed to a new normal of operations since fitness centers were allowed to open their doors a little over a month ago.
She said she received multiple calls and texts every day while Oakwood Training and Fitness was closed, as gym members clamored to find out when they could return to their regular workout routines. Thornton was finally able to respond to the messages with good news on April 24 — the first day gyms were allowed to reopen. Since then, Oakwood Training and Fitness has slowly started to get back into the swing of things.
“Once the doors opened, everybody started coming back,” Thornton said. “At first, it was slow, but most of our members have decided to come back. We really didn’t lose a whole lot of members because of the shutdown.”
Hitesh Patel, owner of Falcon Parkway Fitness in Flowery Branch, said the reopening has brought business back at a slow but steady rate. The gym has seen a drop of around 25% to 30% in daily attendance, but more and more members have been returning every day.
Patel said that the response from members has been overwhelmingly positive, as gym goers have come to realize how important their workout is to their daily routines.
“A lot of people are just coming up to us and are just thankful that we’re open,” he said. “When we were shut down for a couple weeks according to the governor’s guidelines, I would be out in the community, and everybody would be like can’t wait to get the gym back opened up. For the most part it’s been all positive.”
Of course, new safety precautions have caused changes in fitness centers.
At Falcon Parkway Fitness, every other cardio machine has been unplugged to give members more space between each other while running on a treadmill or biking on an elliptical machine. All equipment has been spread out, and hand sanitizer as well as disinfectant wipes have been made readily available to members working out.
At Oakwood Training and Fitness, Thornton said she is mopping the floors after every class and has banned sharing equipment.
Both gyms are also regularly reminding members to stay six feet apart whenever possible.
Patel said the members at Falcon Parkway Fitness have had no issues with new safety precautions, and the atmosphere inside the gym has been relatively normal since reopening.
“I feel more different when I go into a restaurant or Home Depot or a retailer where everybody feels like they’re a little bit fearful of each other and stuff like that,” he said. “People are social distancing, but they really feel comfortable in here. There’s not as much apprehension or fear.”
Samantha McElhaney, a trainer at Kinetix Health Club in Dawsonville, said that if anything, members have been more pumped up than ever to get back into the gym.
Not everyone has come back yet, but the ones who have are returning with renewed passion.
“Everyone is trying to get back in shape after that two-month period where we all kind of had to stay out,” she said. “Overall, the atmosphere has been ‘I’m excited. I’m back in the gym. Let’s lift these weights!’ I feel like it’s been overall very good for everyone.”
Of course, it hasn’t been all positives for gyms, locally or nationally.
Patel said the news of Gold’s Gym filing for bankruptcy earlier this month was a wakeup call that no one in the industry was safe from the effects of COVID-19. He, Thornton and McElhaney all said they’ve had members cancel in the last couple months, putting financial strain on their businesses.
Thornton said during the middle of the shutdown she was even a little uncertain of the longterm future of her gym. Yet despite the uncertainty of the times, she remained confident that things are on their way back to normal for gym owners around the world.
“Gyms are just something that’s always going to be around,” she said. “It’s just something that doesn't go out of style. In the moment it’s hurting the industry, but once we get past all this quarantine, I think everything will turn back to normal, and all gyms will remain fine.”