- - Tuesday, January 19, 2021

At the start of a new year, millions of Americans make resolutions to prioritize their health and fitness. But for many, that will be more difficult as their neighborhood gyms have struggled to stay in business throughout the pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Americans across the country, our representatives in Washington must find solutions that will help keep the economy moving and assist small businesses that have been struggling for months, like community gyms. 

When stay-at-home orders were first issued and government officials started to shut down businesses, gyms were among the first to close in nearly every state. What’s worse is that today, several months later, many gyms in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Washington remain closed despite existing measures to increase safe operations. 

These mandatory closures will have a lasting impact. According to a report from Yelp, gyms and fitness facilities face higher closure rates than other hard-hit industries like restaurants and bars, and they have seen a significant increase in permanent closures.

A recent survey of independent gym owners validates this information and found that almost 40% of gym owners do not believe that they will survive next year without relief. That’s why Congress needs to step in and help before it is too late. One in four gyms already face bankruptcy, and every day that goes by without relief from the government only puts more gyms and small business owners at risk.

Recently, Congress passed a relief bill that included additional funding to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) designed to assist small businesses that have been devastated by the pandemic. While this is helpful and is a good step in aiding recovery efforts, Congress failed to provide industry-specific relief that would have a meaningful and lasting impact on community gyms like mine.

As a member of the Community Gyms Coalition, I have joined thousands of other small gym owners to urge Congress to provide local gyms with direct relief to offset the mandatory closures and operating restrictions that we have faced since the start of pandemic. Unfortunately, the bill that was just passed and signed into law did not include the necessary, direct relief for our industry, and it did not address the current issues with PPP and how those funds can be utilized. 

For example, community gyms must be able to use PPP funding to pay for trainers who are independent contractors. Additionally, the money should be able to be used to pay for rent, which is one of the biggest expenses that local gyms have. These are just two simple fixes to the program that would be beneficial as gyms fight to stay open.

Our members of Congress must prioritize local gyms and fitness facilities in the next round of stimulus proposals because gyms provide essential services to millions of people and help keep Americans healthy. It has never been more important to maintain a strong immune system, and community gyms play a critical role in ensuring just that.

It is imperative that our leaders in Washington recognize the significant need for direct, industry-specific relief for local gyms. The Community Gyms Coalition will continue to push for this relief in 2021 as we fight to keep our doors open, keep people employed, and keep our communities safe and healthy.

• Travis Hanson is the owner of Mendota Fitness in Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

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