By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Prime Minister yesterday performed a last-ditch rescue of the Bahamian gym and fitness industry as operators warned they could “not hold out much longer” amid rising debt and staff terminations.
Dr Hubert Minnis, leading the debate on extending the COVID-19 emergency powers for a further month to end-October 2020, said gyms on “all islands” were being given permission to re-open provided the necessary health and safety protocols were in place.
The ’11th hour’ reprieve came just hours after one gym owner said he was struggling under an $80,000 debt amassed during COVID-19, while another was forced to lay-off all employees.
Dr Kent Bazard, owner/operator of Empire Fitness, told Tribune Business ahead of the Prime Minister’s address: “Nothing much has changed. Nothing much has changed at all. We are just sitting with eager ears waiting on what the Prime Minister has to say today. I heard he will have good news for us so let’s see what that good news is.”
Revealing that he would have been unable to hold out much longer financially, Dr Bazard said: “There is not much longer we can hold out. Within a few weeks it will be $80,000 in debt and that’s not sustainable at all. This is money that I owe regardless of when we open. I owe the money.
“This is not a good place at all. The bank is not working with me and we are working out a payment plan with our landlord. They are very understanding, but they are still due their money whether or not our business closes down or not.
“As far as the law is concerned they are totally within their legal rights to kick us out at any point, but I’m saying as a business we cannot keep racking up bills. We can’t be operating a business and operating in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. We just can’t do it.”
Sophia Whitehead, owner/operator of ClubOne Fitness, also speaking ahead of Dr Minnis’ address, added: “We can’t hold on much longer. We have had to negotiate things so we can stay afloat. We are trying to wait this out, but we have no answers.”
“I’m just waiting. I have almost given up. Obviously we are not giving up, but we can’t fight any more. The gyms have already tried to approach the Office of the Prime Minister but nobody is answering us; they don’t have any answers for us.”
Ms Whitehead added that had to “lay off all of our staff, except for the manager and one trainer because there just isn’t any revenue coming in”. She said: “Luckily we have a negotiation with the building right now that they are going to help us out, but that’s it.
“I think if we start back up at the end of the month we would be rolling around January to have our regular staff complement back. Even my customers, everyone is waiting patiently. They just want to get back. We still have our online class every morning and every day, and it is going good, it is busy. Honestly, I have no words. I can’t believe they can forget an entire industry and not talk to us.”