Gym owners finding new ways to stay afloat amid coronavirus closures

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PHILADELPHIA — As small business owners across the country feel the impact of coronavirus closures, some personal trainers and owners of boutique gyms and studios are getting creative to earn incomes during the shutdown.

“You know, right now, we are like making lemonade out of lemons with what we have. I think everybody is,” said Juliet Root, a co-owner of Unite Fitness in Philadelphia.

Root has been one of many gym owners finding new ways to create revenue while their doors are shut to stop the spread of the virus.

“We decided we were going to rent our equipment,” Root said.

Juliet Root, a co-owner of Unite Fitness, says the studio is renting out its equipment while shut down.

Juliet Root, a co-owner of Unite Fitness, says the studio is renting out its equipment while shut down.

Root said they’ve rented out everything they have, about 75 sets of weights and around 200 resistance bands.

“Every kind of workout equipment has become this hot commodity online and then shipping is challenging, too, so there really aren’t any weights to get online. So, studios like ours have been renting the equipment to help accommodate that,” Root said.

It’s how they’re getting by while shut down, like so many others. Officials in 40 states and Washington, D.C., have ordered gyms to close.

“We have to figure out a way to stay useful to our clients and keep our people in shape. And, how are we going to work?” said David Piccirillo, a strength coach in New York City.

Piccirillo and two other fitness coaches – Julia Chan and Excel Otto – moved quickly, launching a virtual online studio days after New York shut down its gyms.

“And, we have made it all donation-based, because we understand that some people just aren’t in a position where they can pay for fitness,” Piccirillo said.

The online studio, called the Movement Platform, has offered live and pre-recorded classes to anyone with access to the Internet. It’s something a lot of people in the industry have been trying out.

An instructor for the Movement Platform teaching a class online.

An instructor for the Movement Platform teaching a class online.

“We have several instructors that are all teaching classes from home,” said Tom Wartenberg, the owner of La Belle Fit in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Instructors, including Angela Ridgway at La Belle Fit, have been posting workouts on YouTube and Facebook.

“The only difference is, you know, there’s nobody there. So, we are, like, talking to a screen of ourselves and still trying to be, like, alright, come on, go, go, go! You know?” Ridgway said.

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She added that the online exposure, however, had its perks.

“I noticed every day, there's a lot of new people liking our Facebook page,” Ridgway added.

Some small-gym owners have been hoping the government will help them survive the coronavirus closures through assistance programs available to small business owners.

Piccirillo said he applied for the federally funded Paycheck Protection Program at the beginning of April.

“I’d say it was a pretty streamlined process. But, I also understand that these systems are super-backlogged and my status is still pending on both of them,” Piccirillo said.

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Wartenberg applied for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Loan Assistance back in March.

“I am sure I applied on the 27 or 28 of March – have had no response, not an email, nothing,” Wartenberg said.