Since closing Minnesota’s 800 fitness clubs more than two months ago, executives have been coming up with ways to make them safe and appealing in a virus outbreak — and most believed they had things ready.
But on Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz showed he didn’t think they did, keeping them off a list of businesses that can reopen on June 1 and giving no sign when they can.
“We thought we were going to open June 1, with some modifications,” said Chuck Runyon, chief executive of Anytime Fitness, a national chain of 2,700 clubs based in Woodbury.
“Now we’re told it’ll be later with no real timeline. They didn’t have any great reasoning for their decisions,” Runyon said.
About half of Anytime’s centers will be open next week in other states, some with much less-stringent requirements than what Minnesota gym owners had proposed.
On Thursday, some said Walz didn’t appear to consider the diversity of the industry, which ranges from small studios tailored for individual workouts to superstore-sized centers with multiple gyms, weight rooms, pools and courts for racquet sports.
“Why am I being put in the same category as a 50,000-square-foot corporate facility?” asked Jason Burgoon, owner of Bodies by Burgoon, a two-level studio in northeast Minneapolis.
“Safety is the most important thing,” he said. “If a facility can’t have a plan to social distance or close off certain areas, they shouldn’t be open.”
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Thursday said she knew decisions to keep fitness centers closed, and churches and restaurants constrained, “come at a great cost and a great disappointment.” But she noted that the virus case level hasn’t peaked in the state.
Fitness facilities are considered problematic by health officials because workouts can forcefully expel viral droplets into the air and equipment is shared by multiple users.
“The governor made it pretty clear that he sees obstacles to [fitness clubs] opening,” said Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. “They don’t see all those obstacles, though. They’re willing to make adjustments to keep workers as well as customers safe.”
Loon said he met with Malcolm on Thursday and that the pipeline with the governor’s office remains open, despite the disappointments.
“We want to find the correct balance between protecting public health and protecting the economy,” he said. “Businesses have opened safely and are not contributing to hot spots because they are applying best practices for a safe environment for their employees and their customers.”
The state’s biggest fitness company by revenue, Chanhassen-based Life Time, has opened clubs in five other states. Its founder and chief executive, Bahram Akradi, is part of a group of executives working nationally with the Trump administration to reopen businesses, and he praised Walz in an interview last month.
“Whether we felt blindsided, it is what it is,” said spokeswoman Natalie Bushaw, who added the company’s nearly two dozen clubs in Minnesota are ready to open.
Life Time enlisted a former state epidemiologist to help it and prepared a 450-page playbook for opening its clubs. It created a reservation system with limited class sizes and waits 30 minutes between classes.
When it reopened its first club in Oklahoma City on May 8, 40 people were waiting in line at 5 a.m.
“This pandemic is shining a spotlight on the impact of poor health. Our country’s not in good shape,” Anytime’s Runyon said. “Through this entire pandemic, liquor stores, fast food restaurants and CBD businesses have been opened, but gyms were closed.”