Across the U.S., 22 percent of gyms and studios have closed permanently since the pandemic began, according to the Global Health and Fitness Association and as reported by The Denver Post. Of those still standing, 64 percent have taken on debt.
Gym owners in Colorado are saying that without financial help, their customers will not be able to count on their local gym being there.
Last August, Colorado’s fitness industry realized it had a policymaking problem, so owners created the Colorado Fitness Coalition and hired a lobbyist, the Post reported.
The coalition held calls with Gov. Jared Polis and public health agencies and convinced the state government not to close gyms, even in counties with high infection rates.
“We, the fitness industry, should have been more proactive with our lobbying efforts than we were before the pandemic,” Robin Jost, owner of eight Planet Fitness locations in Colorado, told the newspaper. “You have the Restaurant Association and all these different associations — they’ve always had lobbyists.”
The national Community Gyms Coalition was formed in the fall and lobbied Congress for fixes to the PPP program that would help more gyms benefit. For example, corporate gyms had too many employees to qualify, and small studios needed rent help rather than payroll. When that failed, the coalition pushed for a relief bill, similar to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
Head of government relations for CrossFit, Brett Ewer, sought out moderate members of Congress.
The result is the bipartisan Gym Mitigation and Survival Act, or GYMS Act, which has 154 supporters in the U.S. House and 17 in the U.S. Senate. That includes 29 Republicans, more than there were for bills to help restaurants and concert venues, the Post reported.
The bill would create a $30 billion fund for privately owned fitness centers. Those centers would receive as much as $25 million to reimburse them for revenue they lost last year. Companies owned by women, military veterans and people of color would be able to apply first.
Sen. John Hickenlooper is the only Colorado Democrat who isn’t cosponsoring the bill, although his spokeswoman told the Post he supports it. There are no Colorado Republicans cosponsoring the bill.
“These were private businesses that were told to close for the public good but there was no support on the backend or wasn’t enough support on the backend,” Ewer said. “They should receive some restitution for their part in performing something for the public good.”
Supporters of the GYMS Act hope it will be added to the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, and have learned that public policy is a slow grind.
Club Greenwood in Greenwood Village general manager Paula Neubert said her club lost about 1,200 members during the pandemic, and revenue is struggling too.
“We’ve been in a waiting game,” Neubert told the Post. “We’ve been working, working, working and we’re seeing legislation passed and relief packages passed for a number of industries and we’re not seeing it for ours … We keep getting pushed off to the side.”
Even as they work to rebuild revenues and renew memberships, Colorado gyms face an uncertain future. The delta variant’s spread across the state and nation jeopardizes everything.
Gym owners have watched over the past year as Congress has created deep pools of grant money for restaurants and live venues and all the while they have asked, why not us? https://t.co/aaTW9fHhcI— The Denver Post (denverpost) August 16, 2021