Hudson Valley Gyms Face an Uncertain Future in the Wake of COVID-19

Photo courtesy of Powerhouse Gym

Local fitness center owners voice their concerns about reopening protocol and the survival of their businesses after months of closure.

We did it, Hudson Valley. We reached Phase 4.

After months of self-isolation and far too many Netflix binges to count, the Hudson Valley community is back in action, albeit with COVID-19 safety protocol in places. Restaurants are open for reduced indoor and outdoor dining, hair salons are happily accepting appointments, and realtors are showing homes in a buzzworthy market.

Yet for the gym owners of the Hudson Valley, the future remains uncertain. Originally slated to open during Phase 4, gyms were culled from the list during the reveal of the final phase’s reopening guidelines. Now, with no formal announcement from New York State, local fitness industry professionals anxiously await updates as their bank accounts dwindle and their chances of survival in the region grow more precarious by the day.

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The Wheel House owner Michelle Shah / Courtesy photo

In Poughkeepsie, The Wheel House owner Michelle Shah mourns the impact the prolonged closure has on small businesses like hers.

“Without being allowed to open, gym owners are left waiting and wondering,” she observes. “Owning a gym is not our hobby. This is our livelihood, this is how we support our families.”

As a Best of Hudson Valley winner, Shah’s Wheel House has long been a go-to destination for community and friendship in Dutchess County. Without a place to congregate during the shutdown, Wheel House members (and gym-goers in general) have been forced to reconfigure their fitness to include outdoor activities, online workout videos, or some combination of the two.

Nearby in Wappingers Falls, CrossFit 845 owner Dave Aisenstat feels a similar pain. Like Shah, he’s frustrated by the lack of direction on gym reopening as he watches other businesses in the region receive permission to open their doors.

“If you were to tell me that on March 16th we would be shut down for four months, I’d laugh in your face,” he admits, adding that, for himself and his clients, the mental impact of not being able to go to the gym is just as bad as, if not worse than, the physical one. “To be told we can’t work out with our friends that we see on a daily basis in the community that we call family is worse for the individual than not being able to exert energy.”

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As Aisenstat notes, gyms were pushed out of Phase 4 for reasons having to do with ensuring venues like gyms, malls, and movie theaters utilize proper air filtration systems. While the jury remains out on exactly which, if any, filtration changes these spaces will need to make, the prospect of having to do so has smaller business owners worried. Not only could such equipment prove expensive, but, as Aisenstat points out, many boutique studios and CrossFit gyms don’t have air conditioning in the first place.

Further south in Nanuet, Powerhouse Gym faces the same uncertain emotions as its studio counterparts. As a larger operation, however, it feels more equipped to adapt to any necessary changes the state announces.

“It has really been difficult as a small business to watch something that was built from scratch be shut down overnight,” says Jon Gutwein at Powerhouse. “We have always taken fitness to the extreme, so we were confident that we would come out of this stronger than many other clubs.”

A class at Powerhouse Gym in Nanuet / Courtesy photo

While no official regulations have yet been established, Powerhouse has baseline plans established for the day it can finally reopen. Gutwein explains that there will be screens installed between cardio and strength equipment that cannot be spaced six feet apart. In addition, classes will be kept at 50-percent capacity, spacing markers will be designated, staff and members will have their temperature taken as they enter the facility, and staff will be required to wear gloves and masks while working. Powerhouse already installed eight HEPA hospital-grade air filters throughout the facility and plans to close the venue three times daily to use a deep cleaning fogger to decontaminate touch points.

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FitSocial in Poughkeepsie hopes to do something similar. After being forced to shut down on its five-month anniversary in the Hudson Valley, the Queen City studio quickly adapted to offer online HIIT, spin, and yoga classes for free on its YouTube channel.

“We were able to fast-track a beta version of our virtual streaming classes and immediately serve our members and the outside Hudson Valley community with free, daily, high-quality HIIT, spin, and yoga workouts,” FitSocial owner Steve Farris enthuses. “Our model is placing people before profit [so] there was no question to immediately freeze all member accounts. I knew if [our members’] personal jobs were also being forced to shut down, we could, at a minimum, give them a bit of financial relief without having to worry about membership fees.”

In addition to freezing membership fees, Farris allowed members to take home spin bikes for use at home about a month after the shutdown. Two months into the shutdown, he reopened FitSocial’s smoothie bar for to-go smoothies, bowls, and toasts. A month later, he launched a four-week virtual challenge on Facebook with daily HIIT programming.

Yet even with the creative slew of offerings, Farris eagerly awaits the day when FitSocial can reopen its Queen City Lofts space. When the time comes, he plans to work with members to establish workout plans that work for them and bring them peace of mind. He already acquired three UV lights to kill viruses and bacteria in the exercise studios and general areas and will incorporate New York State reopening mandates once they are available as well.

Back across town at The Wheel House, Shah plans to reduce capacity to 50 percent and increase cleanings. She notes that, just like at restaurants, visitors will need to wear masks to their bikes but can remove them upon sitting.

CrossFit 845 in Wappingers Falls will decrease classes to half-capacity, too, and will up spacing to a minimum of 14 feet between each athlete. It already installed a cleaning system from Cintas to ensure proper disinfection onsite. All in all, CrossFit’s Aisenstat will do what it takes to reopen and keep his fitness family safe. The gym just celebrated its eight-year anniversary on July 7, and Aisenstat knows that many of his members are missing not just the chance to work out, but also the camaraderie and community of the space as a whole.

“People who care about our health and wellness understand that we should be at the forefront of the reopening phases and not cast aside,” he says. “If we go back to shutting everyone down, our gyms are in big trouble here in New York.”

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