HOW CORONAVIRUS IS AFFECTING PITTSBURGH’S FITNESS COMMUNITY

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MEREDITH O'CONNOR

MAR 21, 2020

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IMAGE VIA MECKA FITNESS | FACEBOOK

Gyms sit silent. Weight racks, bikes, and treadmills are empty. And rooms that once hosted group workouts haven’t seen a drop of sweat in a week.

It seemed to happen overnight. At the beginning of March, anxieties mounted as COVID-19 cases were confirmed in neighboring states. Then, like that — it was in Pittsburgh.

For the local fitness community, that meant getting on hands and knees to clean every nook and cranny of their gyms and studios, putting sanitizer stations at the front door, and dealing with the effects of reduced class sizes (read: less income). Almost as soon as they started, Governor Tom Wolf urged all non-essential businesses to close, effective Monday, March 16.

“You never think in a million years you’re going to have to close your business or think about that,” said Kevin Beamon, CEO and founder of Mecka Fitness and CrossFit Mt. Lebanon.

But if we know anything about Pittsburgh, it’s that we’re tough as hell — and our fitness studios aren’t going down without a fight.

DOWN BUT NOT OUT

After Monday’s announcement, gyms had to rethink their strategies and jump into action. Mass emails were sent to members letting them know they were closing and, in most cases, that memberships would be frozen or partially refunded. Mecka Fitness and Arsenal Strength initiated equipment-borrowing programs, loaning medicine balls, weights, and kettlebells to members who needed them to work out at home. Over 125 people showed up to Mecka for equipment.

Gyms that had never offered online workouts now do. ASCEND is posting yoga, HIIT, and climbing drills on YouTube, while studios like Meraki, Amazing Yoga, Mecka Fitness, Sweat PGH—the list goes on and on—are taking to Instagram.

Others went back to basics. “We started our company doing outdoor bootcamps in the community,” said Yardon Brantley, president of SHAPE Training. “So we decided we were just going to do that and hang our hat there and be educated in that area and let everything else happen the way it’s going to happen.”

They’re now offering outdoor workouts twice a day, three days a week at parks around the city.

CrossFit gym Arsenal Strength is also sticking with what they know. In addition to online classes, they’ve assigned every member a coach to help with accountability and offer personal training. "[We are] customiz[ing] the classes we are sending out to each person,” said owner Brooks DiFiore. “People don’t come to us to pay for access to a facility; they pay for coaching, and we can coach clients whether or not we have a brick-and-mortar.”

IN THIS TOGETHER

For a lot of people, fitness is more than just physical, it’s a mental outlet, too. And even from afar, the local scene has been doing all they can to continue to provide that sort of support for members, from posting positive mantras and reminders on Instagram to staying connected.

The response: an outpouring of positivity, gratitude, and support.

“We’re just more connected than ever, we’re trying to stay united. I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of messages from our clients, people just reaching out and saying encouraging words” said Laura Escott, owner of Meraki Studio.

Mecka Fitness has an entire Love Letters Instagram story filled with positive emails and class-goers reaching out to renew memberships. Union Fitness has experienced much of the same — members doing what they can to help out. Meanwhile, Ascend has had people ask if they have gear for sale.

WHAT NOW?

ASCEND- PITTSBURGH | FACEBOOK

Gyms and studios are going to need more than appreciation posts and emails to weather this storm. Especially if this goes on for much longer, and our guess is it will, probably for months. In the interim, there is staff to pay, rent that is still due, and brands are going to have to get creative to continue to bring in revenue.

“There’s no real revenue coming in,” said Laura of Meraki, who just began renting out rebounders to members as an additional way to generate cashflow.

National franchises like [solidcore] have already initiated major layoffs — the brand cut 98% of its workforce on Thursday, March 19. Expect more announcements like this in the days and weeks ahead.

“What we’re trying to do is truly figure out the best way for the business to maintain financial solvency, to be able to open in good standing as soon as we are able to and provide the best situation we can for our employees,” said Paul Guarino, co-owner of ASCEND.

The situation is going to get worse before it gets better. If you can still swing your monthly membership, buy a gift card, or find some other way to help ease the financial burden of our local gyms and studios, we urge you to do so.

“Now’s the time to work together. Take care of each other, take care of your neighbor” -Todd Hamer, general manager of Union Fitness.

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