As Denver gyms begin to reopen, some studios will never come back

Buying Barre Forte in LoHi was the realization of a dream years in the making for Sage Fennig. She had longed to own a business that “empowers people and makes them feel good about themselves,” but only 15 days after she took ownership in March, her dream took a nightmare turn when Colorado’s fitness industry was shut down due to the coronavirus.

“I live right down the street,” Fennig said. “I’ve lived in downtown Denver for the past 16 years, so I really know the area. I know the clientele really well. If I had a dream situation, this was it. Then COVID-19 happened.”

Twelve weeks after being shut down, Fennig reopened this past Monday. According to state guidelines, she can only operate at 25% of capacity, which for her studio means five students with one instructor. For Monday evening’s class, five came to the studio while eight more participated online.

In the studio, it felt like a reunion.

“It’s kind of like family to me,” member Sherry Ewing said. “I’m just really excited to be back and see everyone. I think it’s a good step to start moving forward. It’s all about the community, just being together, seeing each other, having those conversations. It’s just wonderful.”

Ewing felt relatively safe, too.

“I feel more safe coming to the studio than I do grocery shopping,” she said.

Gyms, fitness studios and rec centers across Colorado are beginning to reopen in limited fashion under strict guidelines, but many are not. Gyms and rec centers managed by the cities of Denver and Lakewood remain closed “until further notice,” while Englewood’s two rec centers will reopen next week. In Arvada, the Apex Recreation District has begun staged reopenings of its facilities.

Denver recreation centers remain closed “due to the public gathering limitations, physical distancing, and cleaning and disinfecting requirements,” according to Cyndi Karvaski, a public information officer for Denver Parks and Recreation.

But the Englewood Rec Center will reopen on Monday, by reservation only, for hour-long workout blocks. Each block will be followed by 15 minutes of cleaning with spray sanitizers by workers, according to Englewood senior recreation supervisor Allison Boyd, and the facility will be closed from 1 to 4 p.m. for deeper cleaning. A similar plan will be followed at Englewood’s Malley Rec Center, a facility for people 55 and over.

The new state guidelines allow gyms to operate at up to 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. Complicating matters is that some counties have received variances with different sets of rules. In Lakewood, officials are still trying to determine whether they can open any rec centers before August.

“The city is working to balance the ability to operate safely under the limitations, recall employees from furloughs to open the facilities, and pay the cost of operating the facilities with limited users at a time when the city’s revenues have dropped significantly,” said Stacie Oulton, a public information officer for the city of Lakewood.

Planet Fitness gyms in Castle Rock, Loveland, Parker and Greeley have reopened, and all but one Denver location will open next week. Fourteen metro-area 24 Hour Fitness gyms are scheduled to reopen June 22, according to the corporate website.

Kindness Yoga will begin a phased reopening on July 1 with only one location operating at first, the South Broadway studio. Members received an email this week from Kindness conceding that “we face the reality that not all nine studios will be reopening,” but founder Patrick Harrington said no decisions have been made on which ones will close permanently.

Evo Rock + Fitness in Louisville will reopen on Monday, June 15..G1 Climbing + Fitness, a new facility in Broomfield that had been open for a month when gyms were closed by the state, reopened June 4 — the day the new state guidelines went into effect. Earth Treks climbing gyms will reopen June 22.

Some studios will never reopen, though, and their owners are devastated.

Before the pandemic, Andora Freedom owned three Samadhi Yoga locations that she said were “thriving.” But after 18 years in business, she is shutting the businesses down.

“It was much more than a yoga center,” Freedom said. “It was a spiritual center. It was people’s church, it was people’s sacred space. If your life was falling apart, you could go, you could just cry. You would be held in the energy of the space. Those people now are giving me the hope that one day I’m going to get a life back, because now my life is destroyed. I’ve got nothing left, and I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get through this.”

She says she has been through a “hellish experience” and blames government officials — state and federal — for lack of support.

“It’s deeply upsetting to me because I find that my greatest responsibility is creating a sense of community for people, and I find that to be vital for people’s thriving,” Freedom said. “Knowing that I can no longer be that for people, that’s pretty devastating.”

Another studio that will not come back is Flex Yoga + Barre. Co-owner Sarah Mellick said the financial numbers “just really weren’t there” to operate within the severely limited capacity restrictions mandated by the state.

“It was not an easy decision,” Mellick said. “So much has been put into the space and the community, and there’s a lot of emotion behind it. It’s hard to go out on terms that weren’t necessarily yours. When we closed doors on March 16, never in a million years did I imagine that it would be for good. We all thought it was just going to be a few weeks and we would be back up and running.”

Freedom said she would be surprised if any yoga studios make it through this transition, and long-term financial viability is still a worry for Fennig despite the excitement of reopening her Barre Forte location on Monday. She has spent $1,000 to enhance her online streaming equipment in hopes of generating more revenue.

“We’re not going to cut it moving forward if we have to maintain at 25% and are not able to make up some lost revenue through live streaming and on demand-services or outdoor classes,” Fennig said. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to truly make it, and if I am going to be able to fully see out my dream, no matter how hard I work.”

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