Sept.1 was an exciting and long-awaited day for many New Jerseyans, as gyms finally reopened. The move came nearly six months after gyms first closed following the COVID outbreak in the spring. Reopening a gym in New Jersey is now possible by following specific protocols, such as a 25 percent capacity limit, socially distanced equipment, the requirement of masks and disinfectant materials, and several other guidelines. This new way of doing business requires several hoops to jump through for gym owners and members alike, yet most welcome the challenge instead of the alternative.
The last six months have seen much hardship and uncertainty for nearly all industries, but perhaps none has been as drastic as the fitness industry. Gym owners have lived in a world of the constant unknown and likely still do even with reopening underway. But at least they’re finally opening, and we’re beginning to see real progress. With cold weather coming and people getting more comfortable in indoor public spaces, they’ll likely become a sought-after necessity.
What’s the experience like for reopening a gym in New Jersey under the new protocols?
To get a better understanding, I contacted Base, a high-level gym located in Jersey City. Base has everything you could need in a gym. Whether you’re looking for exercise classes, a gym for athletes, a gym with amenities or anything else—Base has it. The fitness staff took me behind the scenes to understand how they’ve adapted and to get a sense of what kind of experience a gym member can expect given the circumstances. I spoke Kara Hermes, Director of Operations at Base, about the process of reopening a gym in New Jersey. Here’s what she told me:
It seems likely that certain gym amenities are impacted more than others due to the protocols in place, given that, how has Base modified the amenities available to its members?
We’re proud to offer the best experience possible for our members. Although face-coverings are now required, you better believe we all have ear-to-ear smiles underneath them, as we welcome back our members. The Governor has placed a few other temporary restrictions on NJ health club amenities, such as sauna/steam/showers. We imagine these guidelines will loosen as time progresses and we’ll reopen them as soon as possible.
How is Base tracking and operating with the 25 percent capacity restrictions?
We’re lucky, our club is more than 35,000 square feet. Even at 25 percent, we have yet to reach capacity at any given time. Base now requires reservations to be made up to 24 hours in advance on our app. We also have software that allows us to monitor check-ins as well as check-outs to keep track of the amount of members in the building at one time.
If I were a member and wanted to work out on Monday, for example, what would the process look like for me? Is there a scheduling platform of sorts, or do people wait in lines like I’ve seen at some other places?
We are making it as easy and convenient as possible for our members to enjoy a workout at the time they wish. As mentioned, the App is how a member schedules their 90-minute gym session. We are also happy to take a member walk-in, if the capacity at that time of day allows. This also is the same for the patio and soon to be indoor classes that BASE offers.
Have members been compliant with the protocols?
For the most part, we have had compliant members. We do a mandatory temperature check upon arrival and a verbal waiver questionnaire.
What’s been the most difficult part of the re-opening process for Base?
Honestly, it has been such a pleasure to be back, and we are so grateful to see our members back and happy to be here. The most difficult part is not being able to hug and high-five our members! They are like family to us, and we missed them during the 5.5-month closure. For now, we’ll adapt to the elbow bump as we welcome back our Base fam.
How would you generally describe your members’ reception to the re-opening?
Members were eager and thrilled to be back! We had done a virtual platform during quarantine, but, there is nothing quite like the real thing — in person — with access to weights and equipment. So it has been an extremely positive opening process!
How have you reorganized the gym to meet distancing guidelines?
We have distanced cardio and strength machines (keeping every other cardio machine off, so it is out of rotation). We have changed the layout of the fitness floor to accommodate distancing. We also have walking arrows to direct the flow of traffic, as well as indicators in certain areas of the gym floor advising members where to stand in a class, for example.
Though there is still much uncertainty, what’s the attitude like at Base when planning for the rest of the year and beyond?
We are confident that the safety measures we are taking will make more and more members feel comfortable to come and work out here. It seems in other industries, it was only a matter of time until the capacity percentages increased, so we are remaining positive the same will be true for health clubs.
Base is a good example of a business adapting in trying times, which is likely to give them an edge in the near future. The path forward for gyms across the country is an uncertain and difficult one. But even so, there’s now light at the end of the tunnel for those reopening a gym in New Jersey. So far, the data surrounding gym reopenings have been positive, but it’s nearly impossible to make definitive claims with COVID. Fitness chains, for example, like Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness, have filed for bankruptcy and likely won’t be alone. Gyms of New Jersey, however, have started to veer towards normalcy. We may not be able to predict what the world will look like come 2021. But we can finally hope that better days are ahead for gyms of the Garden State.
P.S. If you’re interested in staying updated on Base’s reopening process, be sure to follow them on Instagram.