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'It's Going To Be Much More Costly': An Inside Look At One Gym's Reopening In 'Full Phase 1'

Ryan Dailey, WFSUNews
At Tallahassee gym Premier Fitness, equipment has been moved onto the basketball court to allow for more distance between machines. Some parts of the gym, like an aerobics room, are still roped off. The gym's director, Len Harvey, is optimistic about a bounce-back, but the current state of operations is costly.

Gyms in Florida have now reopened, after close to two months of closures due to COVID-19. WFSU recently got an inside look into what it’s been like for one gym to reopen, with the effort to keep gym-goers safe now a primary goal.

Len Harvey, a Tallahassee native, is director of Premier Fitness in Tallahassee. He’s worked at the gym all 20 years it’s been in business, and has been in the fitness industry even longer.

“I started in the gym business in 1981, I was training young athletes,” Harvey said this week.

Nearly 40 years in the profession and the extended closure his business has endured is something Harvey has never seen anything close to before:

“First time ever, anything like this. I mean, the closest thing we’ve had to this is a hurricane, you know, or some type of storm that shut the power down and shut down the roads – and we’ve been closed for maybe five days. But never two full months.”

Governor Ron DeSantis ordered all gyms closed in March, in an attempt to stave off spread of COVID-19. Harvey says he saw the move coming, and actually closed up a day before the order came down.

“So we just decided to go ahead,” the gym director said. “And our part was to try to help cut down on this virus, and you know, we have a lot of people in close proximity that are sweating, and possibly getting it on each other.”

Premier froze membership fees – electing not to charge members while its doors were closed. Most customers kept their memberships, and even now that the gym’s reopened, Harvey says some will keep their account frozen:

“Most people have hung on, but we froze them, we didn’t bill them during those two months. And we’ll have maybe 20 percent that we’ll freeze for another two months, is my guess.”

When DeSantis announced the state was going to “Full Phase One” May 14, which allowed gyms to operate at 50 percent indoor capacity, Harvey felt relief.

“Well, I think I was glad, and I thought we could be safe, as long as we social distanced,” and, he explained, implement a strict cleaning regimen throughout the day – like clockwork.

“We run the club for an hour and a half, shut it down for a 30-minute cleaning. And put cleaning disinfectant on every machine, and shut down some things – like the sauna and steam room, and a few other things,” Harvey said.

Other things like an aerobics room, which has yellow caution tape marking an “X” on its doors, for the time being. But all that cleaning, and the supplies it takes to do it, comes at a cost.

“Between having the disinfectant bottles that you see on every other machine there, there’s about 200 of those, plus the disinfectant,” Harvey told WFSU. “And then we have antibacterial wet wipes here as well. So, we’re going through thousands of those wet wipes and towels.”

Now, the equipment is spread out – some machines have been moved to the wood basketball court to allow for more space. In other areas of the gym, caution tape is on every other elliptical machine and exercise bike to maintain social distancing between those doing cardio.

“We require that they bring a towel, right now. And, we strongly recommend that they wear a mask. But, as you can see by looking around – some do, and some don’t,” Harvey said.

There are plenty of guidelines to go around, and Harvey says Premier is following a combination from several sources:

“It’s a mixture. I mean, some of it’s been by the CDC, some of it’s been through the State of Florida, though the Ag Department.”

Before his gym and all others in the state were shuttered in March, Harvey says membership at Premier was at its highest point – near 10,000 people.

“I think we were headed into one of our better years, there. But we’ve hovered at mid-to-high 9’s, low 10’s.”

On Thursday mid-morning, Harvey said Premier was running at about 30 percent capacity.

“We normally run 2,000 people through a day, we’re running 600 now.”

Harvey, an industry veteran, expects things to return to normal – he just doesn’t know when.

“I expect to see it move slowly up, over the next couple months, given the state of Florida and Tallahassee, Leon County don’t have any major issues with the virus. I think If Tallahassee, Leon County has some major issues, then it could impact our business as well as others.”