Fitness studios push city to set guidelines for reopening

Small facilities struggling to survive despite customer support

San Francisco fitness studios are demanding city officials disclose why gyms are not allowed to fully reopen amid the pandemic when many small and independent gyms are struggling to stay afloat.

The San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition, which represents more than 50 small gyms and studios in The City, filed legal paperwork Monday to obtain the data and analysis that officials are using to justify the prohibition of indoor activities in gyms.

While The City seems to be focused on reopening restaurants, salons and even tattoo parlors and massage studios, the Department of Public Health has “not been able to tell us what science they’re using to keep gyms closed,” said Dave Karraker, co-owner of MX3 Fitness, which has studios in Lower Haight and Castro District.

“Now that landlords are coming and asking for rent, this entire industry is about to collapse,” Karraker said. “We want to work with The City to figure out what are the phased reopening guidelines: What can we do to open safely?”

Karraker added that fitness businesses have been working with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development since May to develop guidelines based on the recommendations of the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reopening.

The coalition has proposed that trainers and the clients in gyms would maintain at least 10 feet of social distancing, Karraker said. Also, trainers and clients would remain within designated fitness zones during training, and cardio machines like elliptical machines and bikes with fans would be placed outdoors, among other COVID-19 protocols.

San Francisco is currently one of the counties on the state’s watch list, and thus, indoor operations of gyms and fitness centers including yoga and dance studios must be closed, according to Joseph Sweiss, a spokesperson for The City’s joint information center.

Mike Porcaro lifts weights outside MX3 Fitness along Market Street in the Castro on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Mike Porcaro lifts weights outside MX3 Fitness along Market Street in the Castro on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

“I understand the frustrations for many residents and businesses coping with the effects of the pandemic,” Sweiss said in a statement. “San Francisco’s reopening plan is aligned with the state’s guidelines and is based on a San Francisco-specific risk model to control the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health.”

Several studios that are part of the coalition have permanently closed, while others are devising ways to maintain their operations. Billy Polson, co-owner of DIAKADI Fitness Performance Life, which has a studio on Division Street, said the business has rented an outdoor turf field and placed gym equipment there for clients.

Still, the business has lost 90 percent of its gym sessions and owes more than $100,000 in rent.

The most daunting challenge, Polson said, lies ahead, as only 30 percent of customers indicated they would have returned to the gym if it had fully reopened on July 1. Some aren’t commuting to The City for work, many customers have moved out of The City to their second homes for the summer, while others are taking care of their children, he said. Some people also fear leaving home.

“Not only are we needing help from our landlord to forgive rent during this closure when we have no money coming in, but we’re also going to need them to be understanding about renegotiating a lease for probably the next 12 months of reopening at a reduced capacity [and] client base,” Polson continued.

Meanwhile, the gym equipment at MX3 Fitness studio in the Castro District has been moved to the sidewalk for gym goers. Also, the studio is holding virtual personal training classes. Still, the business has lost about 80 percent of its revenue since the shelter-in-place order came into effect, Karraker said.

The studio’s clients have rallied behind the business, Karraker said, attending outdoor personal training classes, and buying gift certificates, T-shirts and water bottles — anything they can do to help.

“There’s a huge population of independent fitness studios for different types of clients, products and services. It was an incredibly strong community and a great, powerful industry for the city …,” Polson said. “But now, [the situation] is looking very scary for a lot of us.”