People throughout the Downriver area did something Wednesday that they haven’t been able to do in nearly six months — put on their sneakers and workout clothes and head to the gym.
As the coronavirus began sweeping through the state, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a mandate to shut down gyms and health clubs.
The executive order went into effect in mid-March, and gym owners, most all feeling the financial strain the closure put on their business, have been waiting for the day to reopen.
That day finally came, and with it sighs of relief not only from those on the business end, but gym and health club members as well.
Just ask 4-year-old Abigail Thomas of Gibraltar how happy she is to be back in the building at Downriver Gymnastics in Southgate and watch her face light up with excitement.
Throughout the entire time the facility was closed, Abigail asked her mother, Allison Thomas, when she could go back.
Wednesday was the first day for gyms to reopen, and it also was Abigail’s first day of preschool.
Her mother said she has a feeling being back in the gym will dominate the conversation about her busy day.
“I missed her Saturday morning routine and seeing her so excited,” Allison Thomas said. “It was hard. There have been plenty of challenges during this pandemic. I tried to explain to her why the gym was closed. She still kept asking. I think at some point she was hoping to hear something different.”
Although all services at Downriver Family YMCA in Southgate were not open for public use, members there were clearly thrilled to be back on the workout track.
A lot of preparation went into welcoming members coming back into the facility.
“We’ve been preparing for this day for a long, long time,” Latitia McCree, senior vice president of communications and marketing for YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, said. “It’s not like flipping on a switch and you’re ready to open. We had to be cautious and open with great care. There are a lot of rules and regulations to adhere to.”
McCree said they took those regulations to heart to make sure every rule was being followed.
She said some things will open in phases, noting that what is not open now due to the inability to maintain the required social distance, might open in the near future.
The YMCA has new equipment that improves the air quality and also helps clean various machines.
Members also are being asked to do their part in helping prevent the spread of gems by wiping down some equipment before and after use.
Connie Tiberia of Riverview, said the fact that the Workout Warehouse was an intimate gym and “clean as a whistle” even before the governor shut down the gyms was one of many reasons she couldn’t wait to return.
After taking her first class in months at the warehouse Wednesday, she said the wait was tough to get through.
“It seemed like forever and a day,” Tiberia said. “I did a weight/cardio class. There was enough space for each member to social distance from each other. Everybody washed their hands when they came in and everybody had to mask up.”
The wait was especially difficult for Tiberia because working out had been part of her daily routine.
She went to the Workout Warehouse as many as six times a week.
Along with getting a good workout, she, like most club members, missed the camaraderie with other members.
“It’s like a second home to me,” she said.
Kelli Cook, who owns Downriver Gymnastics, actually has a large facility and said as many as 1,600 athletes have trained at the gym. She said she knew some people would be hesitant to return, so safety precautions go above and beyond the reopening requirements.
“I know we can keep people safe,” Cook said.
There are markings on the floor to make sure youngsters keep their distance and signs everywhere reminding everyone to wear a mask.
After 26 years as an established business, Cook said members were excited to get back to workouts, but also connect again to the strong sense of community they share through the business.
Deborah Jamison’s daughter, Lyndsey Jamison, 17, also is a member of the gym and was among the group of youths who visited the facility as soon as it reopened. The mother said “it’s crazy” that the shutdown lasted this long.
“At first it wasn’t so bad because she got into a routine, but then it got depressing,” Deborah Jamison, said. “This was like a second home to her.”
Her daughter is a level 9 gymnast and, according to her mother, would go outside from time to time to do a back handspring — just to make sure she could still do it. Her mother said gymnast lose more than people think after stepping away for months.
“It’s been rough,” the mother said.
The club maintained a big social media presence during the shutdown to stay connected.
“We wanted to let them know that we are thinking about them,” she said.
It appears the online attempt to keep their members paid off for them.
On a financial note, this marks the first time in the history of the club that it is operating in a deficit due to the closure.
Nevertheless, Sept. 9, didn’t come fast enough for many gyms that had no choice but to close its doors and are no longer in operation.
The survival of their business was coming down to the wire for Kevin and Michelle Hurlahe, who own the Allen Park Martial Arts Center.
They established their family business more than 23 years ago and decided to commit to doing whatever it took to get the business through the closure, but without putting the burden on their membership.
They, like many other owners, never anticipated the statewide order to shut gyms down would last this long and take such a toll on the business.
Michelle Hurlahe said on the day prior to the governor’s reopening announcement it seemed she was set on keeping gyms closed, so when her husband called and said they were opening, she was at a loss for words.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I watched the governor’s press conference. My mindset was that we were going to remain closed.”
That was the last thing they wanted to do.
Her husband said their business has become “a cornerstone in the community” and after serving thousands of families over the years he did not want to close their established institution.
The city, Kevin Hurlahe believes, has suffered enough setbacks in recent years.
The couple was close to seriously contemplating selling the building and holding a going out of business sale had things lingered on much longer.
But now, their phones are ringing again and members are emailing and texting about returning.
“Everybody is ready,” Kevin Hurlahe said. “It’s time we all get back to business.”
Whitmer’s order actually allows gymnasiums, fitness centers, recreation centers, exercise facilities, exercise studios, bowling alleys, roller rinks, ice rinks, and similar facilities to reopen but only for the purpose of serving as a venue for organized sports. They must follow multiple restrictions including social distancing and wearing masks at all times.
Kirk Said, owner of CrossFit Downriver in Allen Park, said getting the green light to reopen was the news he had been waiting to hear for months.
He did everything he could to hold on to the business, including renting out his equipment, holding zoom classes and utilizing their parking lot for small exercise sessions.
His equipment took a beating for it.
“Obviously, a lot of membership has been lost,” he said. “Some people stuck with us. We kept things small.”
As a smaller gym, Said said he has missed the many families that frequent his business.
“It’s a small gym so I know everybody and I see everybody,” he said. “Many of them have lost their jobs.”
Had the governor not lifted the mandate, Said is not sure what he would have done.
“Now we will see if everybody comes back,” he said.
JoAnn Foley, part owner of the Workout Warehouse, said she is breathing a huge sigh of relief.
“That’s what we have been waiting for,” she said.
Workout Warehouse had been getting by utilizing their outdoor options as well, but Foley is excited to resume the indoor exercise classes — with the restrictions.
The owners have tried to make the exercise experience fun and entertaining, offering abs and ASSets, and buns and guns classes.
Foley said the business has been following all of the governor’s mandates and will incorporate all of the restrictions.
There were a couple of gym owners who challenged the statewide closure, resulting in police issuing tickets.
Many people were in an uproar when Lincoln Park police went in and ticketed everyone inside Raise the Bar Gym, including patrons, on July 8, for operating during the mandated closure.
The move came when officers discovered the facility reopened after management was warned by police to close just the day before.
That wasn’t the only gym that pushed back on the mandate.
Crunch Fitness in Taylor also kept its doors open for its members.
Taylor police said they issued numerous tickets to the owner.
Many gym owners expressed their objections to their businesses being closed, arguing that physical fitness is an essential form of health and wellness during the pandemic.
Despite the financial impact to all of these businesses, the owners believe they are fortunate to have hung on for the statewide reopening. They are well aware not everyone made it through the months to celebrate.