Coronavirus is crushing fitness industry pros

‘These are people who built their business from the ground up

The fitness industry has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic, leaving hundreds of thousands of employees without jobs while gyms are closed.

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“We're a group that has been hit really hard by this pandemic, but largely left out of any relief given by the government,” Chris Craytor, a board member of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) told FOX Business.

While restaurants and hotels received specific waivers in the first PPP loan package, fitness centers did not, Craytor explained.

Gym and fitness center jobs are being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and state-mandated closures across the U.S. (iStock)

“We have a pretty similar employee base, with quite a few part-time employees as well as full-time,” Craytor said. “While we're not as large as those industries, we're also still pretty important because what we do is keep people healthy. And it's probably never been a better time to be healthy and lead a healthy lifestyle.”

Craytor, who is also the president and COO of acac Fitness & Wellness, a regional chain of fitness clubs in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, said that without government help, 25 percent of fitness businesses in the U.S. are expected to close for good this year.

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On Monday, IHRSA sent a letter to Congress describing the job losses and the long-term effects of the pandemic on the fitness industry. The association also asked lawmakers to pass legislation that would give the industry financial assistance for the long term, including allowing mid-sized health and fitness chains to access PPP loans.

According to that letter, the fitness industry is estimated to have lost $7 billion in revenue through July 1.

The letter also said that 489,000 fitness employees are unable to work in states including Michigan, New York, Washington, North Carolina, Arizona and California, because of state-mandated closures.

Another 280,500 employees may be out of work again soon in Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania if those states order fitness centers to close a second time -- as they are expected to, IHRSA said.

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The uncertainty about whether gyms will be allowed to reopen and stay open is a huge challenge for the industry, Craytor said.

“We don’t know when [government regulation is] going to be turned on or turned off, it can happen any time,” Craytor said. “That uncertainty has been really hard for our workforce … Once you're shut down again, anybody who came back to you is now immediately back on unemployment and with the current stimulus, we really don't know how long that's going to last.”

It’s particularly difficult because many owners of fitness centers are “small regional or local players,” Craytor said.

“These are people who built their business from the ground up,” he said. “These are small business owners, these aren’t big corporate business owners. They are small companies that are just going to go away.”

“I think what we’re going to hear is that these jobs go away and then they don’t come back,” he added. “Where are these people going to go work?”

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Even in the midst of the pandemic, fitness centers and gyms are still doing their best to stay afloat.

“I think many clubs are doing absolutely everything they can to maintain their workforce and their membership, whether that be offering virtual classes, whether that be renting out their equipment or even doing things outside if they're not allowed to open their doors,” Craytor said. “So our clubs across the country are pivoting very quickly, but that does not replace in any way their core business. So what we're doing is holding on. And what we're doing is trying to make sure that we survive.”

Ultimately the fitness industry needs outside help, he added.

“I think that we really need people to recognize that this is a really important industry that serves billions of visits a year and millions of employees and 40,000 locations across the country and it's been largely ignored,” Craytor said.

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