Downtown gyms hope returning office workers will pump up memberships

·2 min read
An empty GoodLife Fitness location in downtown Ottawa, as seen through its Sparks Street window, in late January 2021 during a COVID-19-related closure. (Christian Patry/Radio-Canada - image credit)
An empty GoodLife Fitness location in downtown Ottawa, as seen through its Sparks Street window, in late January 2021 during a COVID-19-related closure. (Christian Patry/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The return to downtown Ottawa gyms has been slow as people who adapted to pandemic closures by working out from home stick to their new habits.

At Parc Sainte-Therèse in Gatineau, Que., a handful of neighbours began developing workout routines together in the early months of COVID-19 restrictions.

Karen Rauh, who would bike to work and hit the gym at lunchtime, said the group bolstered their physical and mental health.

"When the pandemic started, we really felt that lack of physical activity, so this became a really nice alternative for that," Rauh said. "It's really kind of built our community."

We wouldn't be able to survive like this long term. — Katelyn Runions, Spark Street Fitness

Some members of the group have already planned their return to the office around the Monday-Wednesday-Friday workout schedule.

Lise-Anne Melançon said she finds it more motivational than going to the gym — even if they'd have to adapt their schedule to accommodate commuting again.

"We're all enjoying this and we formed friendships, so we're going to want to keep going," she said.

This may pose a challenge for downtown gyms that thrived on offering a convenient break for desk-jockeys.

Gym manager Katelyn Runions, a trainer at Sparks Street Fitness, is hoping some of those old workout habits bounce back in September as more federal office workers return to downtown Ottawa.

After all, Runions said people working downtown two days a week don't see the value in a monthly membership.

"A lot of our membership base were people who live outside of the city that travel into the city for work … we just haven't seen them come back," she said.

"We wouldn't be able to survive like this long term."

Phil Green, owner of Bodies by Phil on Albert Street, said the majority of his membership live downtown, but commuter clientele has been slow to return.

"We haven't fully recovered from where we were pre-COVID as far as our membership numbers but things are — slowly but surely things are going up," he said.

During the pandemic, Green began offering virtual live and on-demand workouts and he said that will continue for now. He's also finding some of the clients he lost during the pandemic are signing up at the new Kanata location he's opening next week.

Green said he's optimistic that come the fall they'll be a resurgence in group fitness businesses as people try to build new routines.

Like Runions, Green said people can get more out of a guided workout with proper equipment than anything at home or in a park.

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