Gym owner blasts 'failed' stimulus, warns coronavirus to ‘absolutely destroy’ fitness sector

·3 min read

A fitness industry hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic is facing a prolonged recovery that will take a year or more, one gym owner said recently, as she lamented government stimulus efforts that have been insufficient to help stave off disaster.

Gyms, shuttered for months during coronavirus lockdowns, have only recently begun to operate again. With group workouts still restricted, operators like 305 Fitness have gotten innovative by boosting online offerings and fitness certification.

Yet in the face of a second wave of infections, 305 Fitness founder Sadie Kurzban told Yahoo Finance that gyms are facing a “slow crawl back” to pre-COVID revenue levels.

“I would say across the board the industry is really struggling. It's hard to be in fitness right now, with the exception of having a big at-home offering,” she told Yahoo Finance in an interview on Thursday.

Kurzban acknowledged that, at the current time, gyms are “just not a safe environment to be in, and especially group fitness like we are where we have a lot of people all in one room at the same time, breathing heavily indoors, it’s not a good environment.” 305 Fitness has studios in new York City and Washington, DC.

Although she characterized 305 Fitness’ pivot online as a success story, she worried that gyms would be “absolutely destroyed” by the lengthy uncertainty — especially with no financial lifelines available. This week, as worldwide COVID-19 deaths topped 1 million, Congress and the White House were unable to break a deadlock on stimulus talks.

“Businesses like mine that were primarily brick-and-mortar-focused, especially bigger box gyms, we're seeing them close left and right [and] file for bankruptcy,” Kurzban said. “It's really not a happy time for fitness.”

The entrepreneur also lashed out at the Paycheck Protection Program, which threw a nearly $700 billion lifeline to small businesses in the form of forgivable loans but has been maligned by banks and small businesses alike. This week, the Small Business Administration began the process of forgiving some of those loans, amid complaints about the complexity of the process.

Kurzban said the government “really failed [small businesses] in many, many ways. Initially, the PPP funding was for eight weeks. We did get...runway for eight weeks, but we're looking at a one-year or 18-month climb back to pre-Covid revenue.”

With all that in mind, small businesses are still cash-strapped, and laying off workers — who also can’t count on additional unemployment benefits that expired over the summer.

“It's a really, really challenging time and it unfortunately just means that either the people with the largest cash reserves or the people who are lucky and innovative and are able to pivot will get by,” she said. “But I think Covid is going to absolutely destroy a lot of small business and fitness.”

Javier David is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @TeflonGeek

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