Colleen and Connor Cooper’s first year as gym owners looked a lot different than they thought it might.
The couple bought The Workout Club in Marshfield’s Webster Square last October, seeing an opportunity to combine a number of things they love: community, fitness and small business.
Six months into their ownership, though, the COVID pandemic hit, and like so many other business owners the Coopers faced new hurdles and challenges, though they remain more committed than ever to their business.
“We could have thrown in the towel and sold the assets, but Connor and I felt so much allegiance to these people,” Colleen said. “We really fell in love with the club, we fell in love with the community, the people.”
Her husband agreed: “We want this to be here for people to come back to.”
The people have been coming back, slowly; prior to closing in March the club had over 1,000 members. Since re-opening in a limited capacity in July they have under 300 individuals working out, and half of those are new.
Those who do come back are experiencing a somewhat different space, not only because of social distancing and safety measures.
“When we bought it, it looked totally different,” Colleen said. “It had a rug, it was a different color, it was totally arranged differently. Then COVID happened and we thought, what better time to do some renovations?”
On a tight budget because clients weren’t able to come into the gym, the Coopers relied heavily on “the power of friends” to get the work done. Connor drove to Maine three separate times for the mats now lining the floor, staff, friends and family came in to paint and help re-arrange the machines to make them socially distanced and safe.
Multiple changes had to be made to comply with COVID safety protocols, many of which the Coopers chose to go beyond what was required.
“Even though the state says so, what do we feel like is right and reasonable?” Connor said. “That’s how we’re approaching it, even if that’s bad in some sense for business; in other senses it’s just the right thing to do.”
Currently they are allowing 15 members in at a time for 90 minute blocks, with 30 minute blocks in between where the gym is closed and sanitized by staff in preparation for the next group.
A smaller room at the front of the gym, which was previously used as a babysitting space, was changed into a circuit room for ab and arm workouts, designed to be used by one person at a time. The studio room in the rear of the gym now houses cardio equipment, spaced 14 feet apart so members can workout safely without a mask. A number of classes are offered in the rear parking lot, capped at 19, under the maximum number, 24, allowed by the state.
The Coopers also invested in a number of UVC light and air filter devices to add a further level of safety for the individuals working out in their club.
“We’re kind of over the top, but I don’t know that you can be over the top during a global pandemic,” Colleen said.
The club began offering virtual studio classes soon after closing for the pandemic, giving members another option to access workouts and giving the business a way to stay connected.
Both Colleen and Connor have separate full-time jobs; he works for a building products company and she owns a horse business, which has helped them stay afloat during the pandemic. Their large physical space, too, allows them to safely bring members inside.
Many people they know in the fitness community, though, sole proprietors running smaller spaces, have been hit especially hard, with little to no assistance coming from the government.
“Whether you talk about state, local or federal, there hasn’t been anything for five months,” Connor said. “If this was our only income, we would have had to throw the towel in months ago, because what are you going to do?”
Outdoor classes will be offered for as long as it’s realistic to do so, given the weather, and Colleen said so far they’ve been pretty lucky, only recently having to cancel a couple classes because of rain. The couple said they anticipate that as the weather gets colder, more members may return to be able to exercise indoor.
Connor said members are very appreciative of them being open and of all the safety precautions that have been put in place.
“At the end of the day, it’s a lot of the right things to be doing,” Connor said. “There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing, and I think we really adhere to that.”
Follow James Kukstis on Twitter at @MarinerJamesK.