Prince George gym owner sent scrambling in face of closure order

·4 min read

As the owner of a fitness studio, Dean Coleman is among the entrepreneurs who will bear the biggest brunt of the provincial health officer's strategy to stem the tide of Omicron.

On Wednesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered businesses like Coleman's, along with bars, nightclubs and dance studios, to close their doors until January 18.

For an industry typically at its busiest in early January as people flock to gyms and studios to follow through on their New Year's resolutions, the move could not have come at a worse time.

But Coleman, owner of The Movement fitness studio in College Heights, also worries the impact could last beyond the time the order is in place.

"The biggest thing, I think, is it disrupts people's behaviours and it takes away something that was a very positive part of their day... financially, it sucks but even worse it's hurting people's habits and for me the biggest worry is long-term habit change and how that can be reversed," he said Wednesday and a matter of hours before the order was to come into effect at midnight.

The order was imposed to act as a "circuit breaker" against the Omicron variant as worrying numbers have begun to emerge elsewhere in the province and around the world.

Evidence suggests the variant can spread even more rapidly than the previous versions that have taken hold and gyms, and particularly versions like The Movement where group fitness classes are the main attraction, have been regarded as notably at risk of sparking "super spreader" events.

While he's questioning the need for authorities to impose the step, saying a middle ground between all-out closures and operating as usual could have been found, Coleman said he will likely provide classes via livestreaming.

But it won't be the same.

"Home gyms will work but if you rely on community and you rely in instructors to motivate you and you want to see human beings, if you want to have a smiling face invite you in and call out your name, which is what we're really all about, then it's going to be tough for some people for sure," Coleman said.

It's not the first time Coleman has had to survive a full closure. Almost as soon as the pandemic was first declared in March 2020, gyms were among the businesses ordered closed.

When they were permitted to reopen, Coleman said he went above and beyond the capacity limits imposed by the provincial health officer to keep the group fitness classes that are The Movement's main attraction safe for his clients.

The "spin room" was closed down and "pods" were put in place to ensure safe distancing while people exercised, "and that cut our capacity by nearly two-thirds. We went from having up to 34 to 12 stations in 5,000 square feet."

If not for government subsidies and the zero interest loans, Coleman said he would have had to close his doors.

"It was a rocky start because the rent subsidy went through landlords and it was totally convoluted and even the wage subsidy, you needed almost an accountant to figure out the mathematics around that," Coleman said and added that the loans mean taking on more debt.

But without the support, "it would've been impossible."

As of this week, Coleman said business was back up to 60 per cent of pre-COVID levels.

Dance studios will also take a hit. But Judy Russell's Enchainement Dance Studio will continue to operate at a reduced level thanks to a loophole.

"If you look at the fine print, it says 'adults' and so therefore we are absolutely taking it as our youth program can go ahead but we have to suspend our adult program until January 18th," Russell said.

At about 50 students, Russell said adults make up a "pretty big" part of her business but anticipates they will still be there once the doors reopen.

"They're people that are really invested as far as being members of the studio, so my hope is that they will allow us to basically add two weeks on at the end of our year," Russell said.

Westwood Pub owner Nathan Coole may also have dodged a bullet. Although liquor primary, it's not a bar because food is also served although tables must now be at least six feet apart in the name of stronger social distancing measures.

"We had to pull tables and rearrange the whole pub this morning," Coole said.

New Year's celebrations will also be out of bounds once again as a 10 p.m. closing time will remain in place.

The order also prohibits organized indoor events of any size.

However, in an email to the Citizen, Corky Kelly, a marriage commissioner in Prince George, said weddings can still be considered personal gatherings, which are limited to the couple's household plus 10 visitors or one other household. Everyone 12 or older must be fully vaccinated.

Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince George Citizen

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