NYC Fitness Studios Protest to Lift Ban on Group Workout Classes

New York City fitness studios say it’s time for their businesses to reopen, citing a double standard by government officials who have opened up movie theaters, restaurants and wedding reception halls in recent weeks.

Amanda Freeman, who runs SLT, a fitness studio that’s had to close four city locations since New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned group classes a year ago, said the prolonged closures are hitting small-business owners at a time when other entrepreneurs are just starting to see the city rebound.

“Any studio that is in New York City is down nearly 100%,” Freeman said at a protest she organized at City Hall on Tuesday. “We’ve been given no reasoning that actually makes sense for why we’re still closed.”

The fitness industry has been hit hard by pandemic restrictions that have limited gym capacity and shuttered some completely. By September, when more than 87% of fitness clubs in the U.S. had reopened, nearly two thirds of members still hadn’t returned. Many opted for online workout classes or bought Peloton bikes instead.

In New York City, gyms were allowed to reopen on Sept. 2 at a third capacity, but group classes remained shuttered.

That’s left New York’s studio owners and employees to contend with steep revenue declines and an uncertain future. A group of 16 studio owners sued the city and state to allow group fitness class to resume, claiming they are losing members to facilities in Nassau and Westchester counties. There were nearly 9,000 exercise trainers and fitness instructors working in the city earning an average $61,794 a year in 2019, according to a state comptroller report on the pandemic’s impact on arts, culture and recreation.

On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said group fitness classes come with “particular vulnerabilities, particular problems.”

“That’s not true of many, many other things that people do,” de Blasio said at a virus briefing Tuesday.

During the Tuesday briefing, health officials said they worry about participants’ inability to consistently wear masks and their propensity to breath heavily and sweat in close proximity to others in class. They cited recent outbreaks at gyms across the world, such as South Korea and Hong Kong.

Brooklyn Borough President and mayoral hopeful Eric Adams joined the group of fitness-studio owners outside of City Hall on Tuesday to demand city and state officials lift the ban. He said gyms accounted for 0.06% of Covid-19 spread in the state, as of December, and that there’s no reason to keep them closed.

”To the mayor, to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to the state: You cannot say it’s all right to do yoga in Rochester, N.Y., but it’s not O.K. to do it on Rochester Avenue in Brooklyn,” Adams told protesters outside City Hall.

Adams said his own experience with meditation and yoga has informed his views on the issue.

“They see this as just a place for people to come and do poses. It is devastating these small businesses and their employees,” Adams said in a subsequent interview. “This is not just a luxury -- it’s a necessity right now.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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