Gyms in Massachusetts were some of the last businesses allowed to reopen under Phase Three of Gov. Charlie Baker's reopening plan. WGBH Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Elise Caira, who owns SweatFixx, about some of the changes she's made to her studios to make them safer and how she plans to move forward. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: So your studios have been open for about a week for indoor use. I know you were working out outdoors for a while there as well. Do you and your customers feel safe, and how are you going about it?
Elise Caira: So we did a phased approach. Gyms were able to open a few weeks ago, but we took our time with it. We stayed online, so we still have our livestreaming; we slowly started to roll out outdoors, which we also have that too; and then about a week ago we rolled out our studios. So [it's a] very base schedule, we built walls in all the studios, we limited the class sizes a ton, and we've started to see people come back. So it's whatever they're comfortable with. We deep clean the studio after every single use [and] people are wearing masks. A lot of people that are coming feel super comfortable, and they're so excited that we're able to be open.
Mathieu: It's interesting, you referred to your online [streaming] classes. A lot of businesses, whether it's restaurants, gyms or otherwise, had to make accommodations to help their customers, and in many cases found a new way of doing business. Are you going to continue that?
Caira: Absolutely. I definitely think that this has changed the industry forever. So we have livestreaming, and now we have people from Florida, New York City [and] California that livestream with us every day. You're able to connect with so many more people, so I think it has a leveled our business model up a little bit. At the same time, though, we want to be back in the studio, because that's our bread and butter — that personal connection, that personal touch.
Mathieu: What are your capacity restraints that you're observing or implementing on your own? How many people can you fit in at one time?
Caira: So our studio — the rule is eight for every 1,000 square feet — this is a smaller studio, so we have about 10 people on this one. In Beverly and Amesbury the studios are double that, but we still capped it at 14 people. They're spaced out more than six feet and there are walls between them.
Mathieu: You actually put walls up. I've seen images of tape on the floor that didn't seem all that effective. You're taking this pretty seriously, then.
Caira: Yeah. So me and my dad, we just went to work. We went and we got wood, we got curtains and we spent hours building these. Because if you want to buy them right now, they're so expensive. Right now, it's just not an expense we can handle. But it's definitely lower capacity.
Mathieu: How is it working out with a mask on?
Caira: [People] are okay with it. It's not ideal. If you're able to space more and with the walls you're able to take the mask off, but it just depends on their comfort level. I personally don't love working out with a mask, but it's what we have to do.
Mathieu: This was a big investment, then, to get your business ready with all of the adjustments you've mentioned.
Caira: Some businesses are definitely hurting because of it. We were always deep cleaning, but the amount of additional cleaning supplies, and the walls, and the revenue is definitely not matching it. We're not seeing a huge increase in people coming back. It's kind of still the same, but the expenses keep going up.
Mathieu: The head of the Massachusetts Medical Society said this week that the state should consider re-closing some businesses like casinos, and gyms were mentioned, to help stop the spread. That's just a suggestion, at least. But I wonder, what would that mean for your business?
Caira: It would be devastating. I think we put a lot of time and effort in putting our procedures in place, building walls and getting clients back, and then just to re-shut us all down again, it would be devastating. We're still paying rent. We haven't got one break on any of our rents, really. It would be very demoralizing. We would go back to livestreaming, go back to outdoors, but this is our product. This is what we spent all the time on. It would be really sad. But we wouldn't give up. We'd keep going. So you'd just see us back online and outdoors more.
Mathieu: A lot of businesses considered closing because of this.
Caira: I know a bunch of studios in the area that have closed their doors permanently. It's just something that they don't want to deal with anymore, and I completely understand that. It's a rollercoaster of emotion. I remember the day we closed it. I was like, "We'll close for a week and we'll be able to reopen. Everything will be fine. It'll be smoothed out." Four months later, we're still closed and we're trying to figure out how we're going to make this new world work.
So it's a scary thought for a lot of people to think about closing again, and can you ever build back up that momentum? We're trying to get creative. We rented out all our rowers in the beginning. We rented out rowers, we had a big pickup and we started virtual row classes. Now we have slowly got those rowers back, but we're just going to find ways to keep this alive. Very lucky with the people I have. At the same time, I've been reaching out to business owners all across the industry because we're in this together. A rising tide raises all ships. I want all of them to succeed and so don't they, because if we all succeed, we're all going to stay in business.