The coronavirus outbreak has forced all of us to make drastic, and at times difficult, changes to our daily lives. We are staying indoors, working from home, and keeping our distance in public to help do our part in getting the virus under control and keeping everyone safe. Unfortunately, these necessary steps have also caused a lot of hardship for individuals and small businesses.
That’s why it’s disappointing that some small businesses in Minnesota are being forced to continue to wait for definitive information on when they’ll be able to open again. Small businesses have taken the largest hit as people stay home and business slows to a crawl, and they should also be some of the first to be able to gradually reopen once it is safe to do so.
Confident we can operate safely
I’m a small business owner myself, operating five independent Anytime Fitness franchises in the St. Paul area. Since the start of our statewide lockdown, I’ve had to close each of those locations to members, and have had to furlough each of my roughly 20 employees. Because our clubs are critical to so many people’s physical and mental health, it has forced us to be quick on our feet and do our best to provide virtual classes. Now I am confident that we are ready to start reopening in a way that’s safe for our members and staff.
Even if we were only permitted to run at 25 percent capacity, my Anytime Fitness locations would be able to serve a majority of our members at a fairly normal level. Since they are smaller gyms, it is easier for us to effectively limit how many people are in a club at a given time and ensure that members are all remaining at a safe distance from each other during their workouts.
Beyond our readiness to serve an appropriate number of people on-site, we are also ready to continue serving our members who are at a high risk of contracting the coronavirus or who might not be quite comfortable coming back into the facility to exercise just yet. During the lockdown, we’ve been offering virtual training sessions that have been incredibly popular.
Our “at-home challenge” has been a particular hit among our members and their friends and family. Each week, we post workouts online, and our members share videos of themselves following the routine with our hashtag #AFMNAtHomeChallenge. At the end of each week, we choose a winner and give them a $100 gift certificate to a locally owned small business as a way to help out our community.
A hybrid model
With a gradual reopening, we would be able to combine our on-site safety measures with what we’ve already been doing to run on a hybrid model that can serve all of our guests. After all, the primary goal for me and other gym owners across the state is helping all those in our communities to stay healthy — it’s the reason many of us got into the fitness business in the first place. Exercise offers much-needed physical and mental benefits during these trying times, and allowing gyms to run on a hybrid model will help people remain healthy and build up their immune systems, whether they feel comfortable coming into our facility or not.
Many of my friends are small business owners who run wedding venues, restaurants, and bars, and they have also been finding ways to adapt to their customers’ needs despite having to stay closed. For each of us, our small businesses are our main source of revenue, and it is quickly drying up. I, for example, am not charging my members right now, though many are still paying a small fee for our remote classes — and are receiving a great value for those services.
These have been a difficult couple of months not just for Minnesotans, but for everyone across the U.S. Now, the time is right to start moving the needle in a responsible way and allowing the small businesses in our communities that have been hurt the most by this epidemic to lead in recovering from it. They have already shown a great degree of flexibility and adaptability in meeting customers’ needs remotely, and I am confident they can continue doing so as we restart our economy in a gradual and safe way.
Nathan Jesperson is a small-business owner based in St. Paul.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)