Omicron throws at Bay Area gyms and fitness centers final curve after tumultuous year

The past year has been hectic for gyms and fitness studios in the Bay Area. Dean Eriksen, co-owner of Fit Local Fit, a small network of gyms in San Francisco, describes it as “a continuous flow of operational hubs and just a global challenge to get there.”

Now, the fast-spreading omicron variant is about to kick off another ball of the curve in the industry in what is expected to be one of their busiest times of the year, when people are making lists of resolutions. New Year’s Eve and commit to going to the gym more regularly.

“I feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, except we’re starting to see the trends receding a bit,” Eriksen says. “I feel upbeat, but I also feel a little concerned about the direction of things right now.”

Don Dickerson, vice president of FitnessSF, which owns eight gyms in the Bay Area, including six in San Francisco, was less optimistic, especially in light of Wednesday’s announcement that masks would, once again, be needed in gyms in San Francisco, Alameda, Marin and Contra Costa Counties.

“It’s been a brutal year. The constant change has been tough on the membership, ”says Dickerson. “January was our hope to get back on our feet. Now that seems less likely.

Membership numbers are only “a fraction” of what they were before the pandemic, he says, in part thanks to an empty downtown, where three of the group’s gyms are located. Dickerson expects to lose more with the last mask term. “Twenty percent of our members just won’t work with a mask,” he says. “These limbs are going to freeze right away.”

Other Bay Area gyms and fitness studios also estimate a 20-25% drop.

Nationally, 27% of gyms opened in 2019 had closed permanently by summer 2021, according to IHRSA, a global health and fitness association.

“I hope I can say with the end of 2021 that we’re optimistic, we look forward to a whole new year in 2022, but with Omicron it’s all up in the air at this point,” said Dave Karraker, co-owner of MX3 Fitness and spokesperson for the San Francisco Independent Fitness Coalition. “You never know what’s going to happen, and I think Omicron has shown that anything can happen. “

He hopes the final term, which expires February 1, 2022 in San Francisco, won’t cause too much attrition and that, with an end date in sight, members might be able to get past it. “I think it’s important for people to remember that these are small businesses we’re talking about.”

Despite the past two tumultuous years, those who have made it so far are trying to remain optimistic.

Tracey Sylvester, owner of EHS Pilates, calls the past year a “whirlwind” with “a lot of stops and starts,” but says the city’s fitness industry has come out stronger in some ways. “At first we were sort of isolated as a small group that got really very little support, very little attention, we didn’t have big advocacy groups so we really had to fight to get our voice be heard and it was a battle for a year.

“I think we’re on the other end. I think we have merged as an industry, I think we now have a voice.

Plus, Sylvester says, she believes residents and policy makers have a new understanding of the vital importance of these businesses. “The most important message that comes out of this pandemic is how many people have atrophied, how much movement is an important part” of daily life.

At the start of the pandemic, Shannon Boughn, owner of 17th Street Athletic Club in the Mission District, feared that Peloton and virtual classes could completely replace the gym.

“It was scary, just to think that maybe this is the new world, that everything is online,” she says. So far, this is not the case. “What I see when they relax the mask mandates and when they let people come back, is that people want to come in, they want the community and they want the accountability in person.”

Now that the “existential terror” has passed, says Boughn, it is focusing on the city. With the wave in full swing, masks make sense, she says, but she knows it will mean a huge drop in customer numbers for now. She hopes the city can intervene to help her.

“The city needs to do things to help gyms the same way they have helped restaurants,” Boughn said. “And they have to find a way to make doing business in the city a little easier. “

Ryan Kost is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @RyanKost

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