This year may be looking up for the health and fitness industry as vaccination rates rise, but many gyms have a long way to recover from the nightmare that was 2020.
Gyms were among the first businesses forced to close and the last allowed to open in most states. The restrictions dealt an especially devastating blow to one San Diego CrossFit gym preparing to shut its doors this summer after operating in the red for the past 15 months.
“We love our members a lot, we hope they know that. We held on for as long as we could and we had fun doing it. Obviously, it was stressful, but now we're kind of ready to move on,” Derrick Yamada said, before reaching over to give his wife, Vianney, a hug and kiss.
It’s an embrace that reflects the emotion of the year.
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Derrick and Vianney followed their dream of opening a gym and named it after their son, Troy, but what was a dream in 2017 is now facing a harsh reality.
“We turned it into something that made us money each month and now it's not that anymore,” said Derrick.
They told NBC 7 roughly 50% of their members cut the cord when the pandemic hit and the gym began relying on virtual classes to stay afloat after repeated shutdowns.
To make matters worse, the rent for their facility will soon return to pre-pandemic price after being reduced to help ease the burden on impacted business owners.
“The PPP was awesome... but across 15 months, the amount provided wasn't enough to make up for what the losses were. In the afternoons, we'd have people here, there'd be a lot of noise and music, now some of our classes are almost extinct,” Derrick said.
Like so many other gyms across the country, they’ve been fighting to stay afloat for over a year.
“Between the two of us, we’re working for less than minimum wage. People are not coming back into gyms in droves like we hoped for. We don't have what it takes, financially or physically, to ride it out for another 18 months to see if we can recover and get back to where we were,” Derrick said.
The couple has decided to shut Troy CrossFit’s doors after what they call their hardest year.
But despite the loss, they both say they gave it their all.
“To see something that is out of our control make that go downhill is really tough, but we kind of just try to focus and hold on to the fact that we've been able to impact a lot of people,” Vianney said.
People like Dan Parker and his wife, Stephanie -- both small business owners who have had their own pandemic struggles and have relied on the gym for more than just building muscle since it began.
“The community factor,” Dan said. “You can't put a price tag on that. We have all been through a lot this year and this has been the one place to keep everyone pulled together.”
They say they can’t bear the thought of seeing the gym close.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” said Stephanie, fighting back tears. “I've just in a short amount of time really fallen in love with this place.”
Jenny Schafran is a founding member of the gym and was so disappointed to hear the news, she took matters into her own hands.
She is organizing a silent auction next month where local businesses can donate items to sell in a last-ditch effort to save the gym, or at least ease the financial burden on the Yamada family.
“To see it possibly coming to a close is heartbreaking but we have to face reality -- we may not be able to save the business -- but we can at least lessen the burden that has accrued because of Covid,” Schafran said.
The Yamadas say they’re not sure what the future holds, but they know they’ll continue to follow their dreams.
“When we moved to San Diego in 2014, we didn't have much -- just our household…And now we'll be in a similar situation so we're going to take six to eight weeks to kind of reflect,” said Vianney. “It wasn't for nothing, even if it's a lot shorter than we anticipated…These are memories and lessons that we're going to take for a really long time.”
Troy CrossFit’s doors will close on July 2 if the situation doesn’t improve.
Lawmakers introduced legislation to help the fitness industry recently, unveiling the bipartisan Gym Mitigation and Survival Act, which would award grants to gyms and fitness studios that can be used to cover payroll costs, rent, utilities, mortgages and personal protective equipment, among other costs, if passed.
The $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill passed in March did not include any help specific to the fitness industry despite the restaurant industry getting specific funding.
Gyms and fitness studios have been unable to fully participate in other federal relief programs because of limitations on the use of funds for their standard expenses, which owners say have high fixed costs other than payroll.
The Yamadas say the bill is coming too late to help them but encourage people in the fitness industry to contact their congress member to support the legislation.
The fitness lobby group International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) estimated that as of Sept. 30, 15% of gyms had permanently closed. It also reported that the industry lost more than $15 billion in revenue and cut 480,000 jobs nationally.