A group of small boutique gyms with personalized fitness training are demanding to see scientific evidence supporting San Francisco officials' reasoning for keeping their doors closed during the ongoing public health orders, saying that they could operate with far less contact between patrons than restaurants, hair salons, or larger gyms.
Small gyms like DIAKADI Fitness in Potrero Hill and MX3 Fitness in the Castro are struggling to make ends meet like many of their small-business peers in the hospitality industries during the pandemic. MX3 has been allowing clients to come use their equipment on the sidewalk outside their Market Street studio for several weeks, and DIAKADI has set up an outdoor training facility as well on a rented square of a soccer field — with current city health orders only permitting outdoor exercise classes with masks on.
But owners of both fitness studios say reopening their indoor spaces could be done with an abundance of caution and safety protocols. And unlike hair and nail salons — which were set to be included with indoor dining in a Phase 2.5 reopening step earlier this month before that was put on pause — fitness trainers can do their work with clients without coming within six feet or touching them. And physical therapists, who provide many of the same services as fitness studios, were already allowed to restart their practices when retail stores reopened in San Francisco.
"The City has been so focused on keeping retail and restaurants open and pushing to reopen salons and tattoo parlors, they are letting a once-vibrant industry crumble right before their eyes," says Dave Karraker, co-owner of MX3 Fitness.
Karraker is helping to lead the newly formed SF Independent Fitness Studio Coalition, which submitted legal paperwork with Mayor London Breed on Monday seeking to be
"The Coalition has been attempting to work with the City on safe reopening guidelines following CDC and Gavin Newsom’s own approved guidelines – including just one client/one trainer in an entire studio [at a time], with cardio done outdoors only – but the City has remained silent," Karraker says.
Hosting only one client at a time indoors will not allow these small gyms to get back to their normal levels of business and revenue, but it will at least get them closer to solvency. The coalition estimates that its 50 small studios have been losing around $9 million per month since sheltering orders began in March. And they account for some 600 jobs, many of which had to be furloughed.
"San Francisco’s small independent fitness studios are dying – days away from filing bankruptcy or simply walking away from leases, leaving empty storefronts across the city," the coalition says in a press release.
Billy Polson of DIAKADI Fitness tells SFist that reopening his indoor studio space would be "a tremendous help for our business, as we have a large rent debt that is building with the facility shut down."
He says that outdoor training is allowing them only to revive a fraction of their former business. "The field is only about 10 percent of our normal indoor capacity, so although it is not a huge help for paying our bills, it has been a great way to get our community back together in a safe manner."
The coalition filed a public records request with the city as a first step toward a potential lawsuit. And Karraker and co-owner Glenn Shope went on KCBS radio this week to plead their case as well.
"The big issue we have right now is we don't know the science they're using to keep gyms closed," Karraker says. "If we knew that, we'd be able to accurately address every single issue."
The coalition is still awaiting a response from the city. At present, gyms are part of Phase 3 of reopening in California, and in San Francisco there is no current date for beginning Phase 3.
Phase "2.5," which has meant different things in different counties, was set to include outdoor bars — some of which are now open for sidewalk drinking in multiple neighborhoods in partnership with nearby restaurants — as well as indoor dining, massage parlors, tattoo studios, and hair and nail salons. An original start date for this phase had been July 13, with things pushed up to June 29 due to positive pandemic trends, but that stage was postponed indefinitely in late June due to rising COVID metrics in the city — specifically hospitalizations.
Photo: MX3 Fitness/Facebook