How has Omicron affected the gyms in Portland?

For local gyms and fitness studios, Christmas typically arrives in January, when people flock, flush with New Year’s resolutions, hopefully buying memberships.

But this year, like so many others, the rise of the omicron variant has made a difference. It’s a particularly tough blow for the fitness industry to take after nearly two years of pandemic shutdowns and restarts, not to mention exercising while wearing a mask, while required by state law to help curb the transmission of COVID, is nobody’s idea of ​​an optimal time.

“January is usually a very busy month in the studios,” says Beth Harp, co-owner of local yoga studio The People’s Yoga. “I don’t expect that. Regarding my cash flow projections for the year, I have made a few changes.

The Southeast and Northeast locations of The People’s Yoga closed their studio doors from March 2020 through April 2021, and the studios were hit hard financially. Harp’s goal for 2021 was to end the year with revenues down just 30% from 2019, and she says she was on the right track. Then came the omicron.

The studio has managed to stay afloat throughout the pandemic thanks to monthly subscription fees and online courses. And although studio attendance has declined further since omicron, Harp says that the 50 percent of their clientele who have stayed with them during the online periods remain satisfied with remote practice and continue to practice online.

“I think online has really inspired some students to take ownership of their practice, in a way that is beautiful to me. I want yoga where students feel able to choose what is best for their experience at the time. And I think online has supported this habit. It’s a mixed bag, ”Harp said.

Dan Walton, co-owner and Pilates instructor at Studio Blue in northwest Portland, said COVID was the boost the studio needed to finally offer online classes. In addition to the support and donations they received from their gym community at the start of the pandemic, online classes have become the studio’s lifeline. Walton sees him as a silver lining in more than one way.

“My parents have been taking classes with me for about two years now. And they live in Connecticut. So it’s amazing that my family can connect, ”Walton said. “I [also] teaching Pilates retreats all over the world, so that people I have met in other countries can now connect, which is really quite special.

Harp and Walton both say online education has brought convenience and accessibility to their customers throughout the pandemic. Whether people don’t have access to transportation or have a busy work schedule, online courses make it easy to find something to suit everyone.

Nevertheless, the demographics of those who want to be in the studio and who want to be online are everywhere, says Harp.

“We have a pretty large population of people over the age of 50 to 55 and some of those people were the most keen to go back to the studio,” says Harp.

The People’s Yoga and Studio Blue have both adhered to all CDC guidelines for COVID security. But according to Harp, an important aspect of what makes in-person practice so safe is that people feel a real sense of responsibility for the safety of their fellow students.

Evie and Joe Graham, co-founders of SE Portland Vega Dance Lab has also noticed this trend among its dance students.

“Our clientele is very similar. We’re very similar in our approaches to COVID, so there’s a lot of self-monitoring that goes with it, from our instructors to our student base, ”says Joe. “So if someone isn’t feeling well or has been exposed, they let us know immediately and stay away. “

For Vega Dance Lab in particular, there has been a drastic drop in registrations for online courses, with around 80% preferring to return to classes in person – if they can reserve a spot in the studio’s limited capacity, that is – to say. According to Evie, Vega has had a surprising number and variety of new customers throughout the pandemic, many of whom had never even danced before.

“I think people are realizing, what have I got to lose? [It’s also] a way to imbue their life with social activity. You don’t see any smiles because we are all masked, but you see the other eyeballs and feel the physical energy of the companionship there. So I think it’s a really good help for their mental health, ”Evie said.

Anton Fero, founder of North Portland Blue House Fitness Gym & Training Center, emphasizes its customers’ desire for in-person friendliness and activity, and their efforts to achieve this safely.

“Six months after the start of the pandemic, people were like, ‘I don’t want to do anything on my own, I have no motivation. So we just offered the same kinds of classes that we would offer indoors, but outdoors. In the parking lot. In the rain. It was so intense, but people were like, “I’d rather be doing this than being on Zoom,” said Fero.

Fero believes Blue House really found herself in the pandemic because she pushed the gym (formerly affiliated with Crossfit, now renamed after some disturbing allegations about the brand) to think outside the box on how to brand themselves. Because of this, Fero says the omicron outbreak hasn’t been that big. They already have all the tools in place online for those who feel the safest at home, and are ready if CDC guidelines change again.

Walton of Studio Blue also sees the desire to practice in person among his clients, saying that 75% of people always want to attend a group class. However, Walton recognizes another popular intermediate option for people who may not wish to practice in groups during the omicron outbreak.

“In terms of January and new business to come for the carpet room, it definitely looks lighter. We’re seeing a lot more people taking advantage of the private ones, because all of our privates are in private rooms… because they say they don’t want to be in a group environment, ”Walton said.

In the end, whether you decide comes in person, private or distance workouts, or even just trying to implement a new fitness routine this year, Harp encourages us all to be patient and listen to our bodies.

“You are still in a pandemic. So you might be tired. And if that’s true, do a great job listening to yourself. Because time moves. And if you don’t start now, there are cultures that have New Years at least four other times a year, ”she says. “So you can start later. Listen to your desires, find what brings you joy.

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