January is supposed to be the busy time for fitness centers, but the Omicron variant sweeping through Nova Scotia since December has squashed any expected surge in business.
“We’re seeing a lot of people put their membership on hold during a time of year we don’t normally see holds,” said Pictou County YMCA CEO Tammy Goodwin.
The non-profit currently has about 300 memberships on hold at a time when they’d traditionally expect next to none.
The emails they receive make clear the reason: “With the rising cases, I would like to take a break from the Y until this wave is calmed down,” many of the emails say.
Peter Guthro at Peter Guthro’s Downtown Fitness Studio has seen the same effects of the Omicron wave.
“My style of gym is a personal training gym, so it’s a lo of one-on-one, two-on-one small group training, but it still was enough to kind of scare people away that they didn’t want to be in groups right now, ”he said.
“It is a little bit hard as a business owner to attract new people.”
But if the last two years have taught business owners anything, it’s to adapt, and that’s just what these businesses have done.
“The current restrictions again as before make it more challenging to operate but not impossible,” said Goodwin.
Steps that the Y took early on in the pandemic have made the subsequent waves easier.
In the summer of 2020, the organization purchased MyY app technology.
“It’s proving to really help us whenever there are restrictions because we can control our access and make it convenient for the customer to know when is it busy.”
By looking at the app, patrons can see when time is available and in what areas of the facility. That way, they can stay within gathering limits at all times.
“We haven’t had too many issues of having to turn people away,” Goodwin said.
Group fitness type classes have been the most challenging to co-ordinate because equipment needs to be spaced to allow for proper social distancing, but they’ve been able to make it work.
To ensure the safest environment possible, the Y recently installed new air filtration systems in the weight room and cycle fit rooms and continues the enhanced sanitization practices they started earlier in the pandemic.
An interesting side effect of the pandemic is that people value group fitness more.
“Group fitness popularity has grown exponentially during the pandemic because people aren’t out socializing,” she said.
When they gather for group fitness – even socially distanced – people seem to value the human interaction more than ever, she said.
Goodwin said they’re grateful for the support that both the provincial and federal governments have put in place that they’ve been able to use to help carry them through. She’s optimistic that as this latest wave dies down, members will return as they’ve seen happen in the past.
In March 2020, when the pandemic first arrived in Nova Scotia, there were 4,400 members at the Y. When they reopened later that year, they had only 1,500, but since then have climbed back up to 2,800.
As they rebuild, they hope to continue to help those who are struggling. The Y offers membership assistance to many of its clients to ensure everyone has access. An event to help with that effort is the annual Megathon fundraiser, which runs from March 12 to 18.
“This is how we collect donations in a really fun way to ensure the Y is accessible to all in our Community,” Goodwin said.
For more information about the Y and programs available to assist people, visit www.pcymca.ca.
As the pandemic reaches what some experts believe is the endemic stage, Goodwin believes they will come out of this stronger.
“I think the pandemic has taught every business really good lessons in adapting and in being flexible, and those are learnings that no one can ever take away,” she said. “We’re just going to continue to learn to adapt and be flexible and be responsible to our community and our customer needs.”
Peter Guthro’s Downtown Fitness
The pandemic has certainly been a whirlwind for Guthro. He started his business just months before COVID arrived in Nova Scotia and has felt the impact as waves of cases and restrictions seemed to hit every time his business started to grow.
Still, he’s established a strong base clientele that, along with government supports, has carried him through and kept his business going.
“The grants and the funds they were able to provide for us helped me just pay rent from month to month and get over the hump and pay myself a small paycheck while I was waiting for I to get back to where it was,” Guthro said .
But his success also depended on his own innovation and hard work. He adapted no matter what came his way than him. At times that meant offering training through Zoom, in people’s yards or the parking lot by his fitness center di lui.
He’s optimistic about the future and believes that people will soon start returning as they have when past waves have subsided.
“I really feel like this last wave is going to be endemic and will be a good boost for my business.”
Ruthie Burns, general manager of GoodLife’s New Glasgow East River club, said that their business is thankful the Nova Scotia government did not shut gyms down through the Omicron wave.
“In fact, Dr. Strang acknowledged that exercise plays a significant role in helping people manage their mental and physical health and wellbeing,” she said. “That was a huge step in the right direction. Our members really appreciated the chance to work out at the gym and to stay connected with the community here. “
They’ve tried to create as safe an environment as possible, so their clients feel comfortable.
“Early in the pandemic, GoodLife partnered with experts in health care, cleaning and sanitization to develop The GoodLife Standard, which allowed us to meet or exceed all public health guidelines across Canada. Here in Nova Scotia, we have been following all COVID-19 safety regulations from Day 1, ”she said. “Some of the COVID-19 safety measures we have in place include careful management of capacity limits, masking, physical distancing, checking proof of vaccination and hospital-grade cleaning practices.”
Like other businesses, they found ways to adapt.
“GoodLife has developed more channels for members to access fitness – both in the gym and online. We offer over 500 workouts through GoodLife On-Demand and daily live Instagram Workouts, ”she said.
Members also were able to access remote personal training.
“We’ll keep doing everything we can to keep our clubs open and running safely while offering on-demand and live fitness classes and programs online so members have options to stay active however and wherever they are able.”