As Brian Way gets ready to reopen Iron City Gym on Cypress North Houston Road on May 18, he said there are two levels to how it will affect people:his personal survival as a business owner and the meaningful connections the gym holds for member base.
"Gyms are therapy for many people," said Way, who co-owns the gym with his wife, Melanie. "The gym, for [my members], is more than just a hobby. It's a lifeline for many of our members. It’s one of the most, if not the most, important things in their lives."
Iron City is one of many gyms in the Cy-Fair area looking at how and when to reopen after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gave the go ahead for gyms in the state to reopen May 18 at 25% occupancy. Gyms were first told to close March 20 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Major chain gyms, such as Life Time Fitness and the YMCA, are working to reopen, as is the local branch of VillaSport in Cypress.
Orangetheory Fitness in the Towne Lake area is among the gyms where officials said they are taking a little more time.
Way said Iron City has undergone two thorough, full-gym sanitization efforts, including one that was just completed May 14. Once the gym reopens, members will reserve time blocks online to ensure the 25% threshold is not crossed.
"We'll be operating with a strict protocol," Way said. "Everyone has to wash hands before entry for 20 seconds, and then, they are required to wipe down equipment before and after use. We'll also have 6-foot markings throughout the gym so people can adhere to social distancing recommendations."
As a business owner, Way said being able to reopen May 18 brings some signs of relief. He said he was approved for a $1,000 small business loan but is still waiting to receive it.
"We’re extremely thankful that we get to open up May 18," Way said. "It allows us to hold on to our business. $1,000 is not going to pay the bills."
Bryan Robins, who owns two InSPIRE Rock indoor rock climbing gyms in Spring and Cypress, said his gyms have been shut down for about two months.
The process of preparing to reopen May 18 has included sanitizing the entire gym, developing new social distancing procedures and having two doctors from the Texas Medical Center tour the facility and provide guidelines, Robins said.
Once inside, Robins said there are other unique needs rock climbing gyms face. All climbers will be required to use a bleach-based disinfectant on their shoes, and the gym has obtained a special "liquid chalk" to replace the typical chalk climbers use to counteract sweat.
"We partnered with a company called Friction Labs, which made a liquid chalk that is 80% alcohol-based," Robins said. "So we're going to go liquid chalk only. We’re hoping that will at least get people sanitizing more often.”
For the first week of being open, Robins said the gym will be available only to members. Members will be able to start making reservations online for two-hour blocks May 16, he said. Starting May 25, Robins said reservations would open to the general public.
In terms of revenue, Robins said his business model relies about half on memberships and half on purchases by the general public, such as day passes. He said the gym's members have largely stayed loyal throughout the closure, but the potential drop in visits from the general public are a concern.
"That’s the side that I am super nervous about," he said. "The members are here and are excited to come back for the most part, but if the general public is not comfortable coming out, we might have to look at a change in business model and what to do at that point."
The close-knit nature of the rock climbing community has provided some other advantages to reopening, Robins said—namely, being able to converse with gym owners who have reopened gyms from Georgia to as far as South Korea to learn what has worked to keep the virus from spreading.
"So far to my knowledge, I haven’t heard of any outbreaks at any gyms," Robins said. "From what we’ve read and what the doctors and medical experts have told us, it is much more difficult to get [the virus] through touch contact points. It's easier to spread by people sneezing and coughing. If that is true, ... then I think we’re in a pretty good position to keep things as sanitized as possible."