toronto gyms

Toronto gym owners feel unfairly targeted after being closed five months straight

Gyms may not be reopening in Toronto anytime soon, and there's mounting frustration among gym owners as facilities remain closed for the fourth consecutive month since provincial lockdown. 

Indoor gyms and recreational programs in Toronto were forced to close on October 10, when Toronto's COVID-19 numbers hit 420 new cases a day. 

Modifications to the city's grey zone have allowed restaurants to reopen for patio dining, but as April approaches, gyms owners in Toronto say they're left feeling "swept under the rug." 

"I have literally no income coming in," says Dan Novak, owner of the Queen's Quay studio Elite Martial Arts Toronto.

The single dad says he's been finding it "harder and harder to provide" for his daughter as the pandemic drags on.

"Sometimes we are at the the grocery store and I have to tell her to put back certain foods because I can no longer afford them... That's an awful feeling." 

toronto gyms

Elite Martial Arts first opened in 2013. Since the pandemic started, owner Dan Novak says he's lost 100 students and is struggling to make ends meet. Photo by Hector Vasquez. 

Novak started Elite Martial Arts in 2013, renting a separate space from the health club Pure Fitness on York Street, which he says has cost Pure thousands of dollars in extra health measures like floor markers, temperature check machines and sanitation.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Novak says he's lost around 100 students. He's currently charging $35 a month for Zoom classes.

Though he's lucky enough to have a good relationship with his landlord, Novak says that, until the province allows gyms to reopen with safety measures, he won't be able to make ends meet. 

"I want us to be recognized as something that is essential for people’s mental and physical health," says Novak. "At this point I think people are deteriorating in their condos."

In September and October, Elite Martial Arts was running outdoor classes at Roundhouse Park.

With temperatures rising weekly, there's the possibility of running classes outside again, but Novak says there are a slew of factors that might make clients hesitant to exercise outdoors.

There's asthma, allergies and smog concerns. Plus, "running on the grass instead of full-body punching bags" just isn't what clients paid for, says Novak, so he doesn't charge full price for classes.

And on top of that, gym owners have to pay a rental fee to the city for park permits.

toronto gyms

Elite Martial Arts implemented health measures like floor markers, increased sanitation and temperature checks before being forced to close in October. Photo via Elite Martial Arts.

Brian Castillo, the owner of the 9Round Kickboxing Fitness on St. Clair West, says that much of the city's attention has been focused on restaurants and bars. 

"The gym industry doesn't have UberEats, we don't have patios," says Castillo. "We have facilities that are made to work out in. We don't have an opportunity to make any type of revenue whatsoever and we're still closed." 

9Round was one of several sports facilities that was able to remain open for the majority of the first lockdown, since the sports club is overseen by a Provincial Sports Organization (PSO), in this case, Kickboxing Ontario

During that time, the gym adhered to cleanliness guidelines set out in a 15-page document provided by the PSO. That included everything from screenings at the door to equipment wipe downs and a total overhaul of their HVAC and furnace system, which set the gym back around $7,000. 

And given the gym's program, there were never more than 10 clients in 9Round at a time, even before COVID-19. 

In 2020, gyms chains like SPINCO and GoodLife Fitness reported cases of COVID-19 at a number of locations.

But 9Round never experienced any known cases during several months of remaining open during the first lockdown. And little data has been released by Ontario to suggest a strong link between gyms and coronavirus cases. Still, Castillo says that gyms have been labeled as hotspots for COVID-19.

"The biggest issue has been the villifying of the industry by the government," Castillo says, "that makes it seem like the worst place. Now we have to fight for public trust." 

Castillo says that the mask exemption policies at gyms have helped to contribute to that perception. He says that his gym is open to enforcing a mask-on policy, even while exercising, to keep his business open. 

"Those who want to work out will come," he says

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