Reopening jitters linger

·4 min read

THUNDER BAY — With the third phase of Ontario’s reopening kicking in later this week, business owners are feeling a gamut of emotions including excitement, fear and skepticism.

Jenn Bisignano, owner and manager of Thunder Bay’s Push Fitness, has waited a long time to reopen her business and will receive the opportunity to do so at 8 a.m. Friday.

“We have been closed for a total of 317 days as of this Friday and honestly, I feel like we have been through a natural disaster, we have been evacuated from our homes and this is me coming back to see the damage,” she said. “I am looking forward to being around people again but I feel like my business is right back in its infancy stage and it makes my heart sick. It’s very emotional and I feel really connected with all the local business owners who are in the same boat.”

Bisignano says she is happy to see her neighbours again and wishes them well but the overall anticipation is hard.

“This is our fourth reopening and it’s kind of lost its lustre,” she said.

“You just don’t know. I still think there is a dark cloud. I don’t know how long this one’s going to last and that’s the problem.”

The fitness provider says it’s worrisome to see what is happening in other parts of the world where COVID-19 variants are spiking again.

“It’s scary to see how Ontario is so worried about the Delta variant,” she says.

Bisignano said she noticed how the pandemic made local small businesses bond together “a lot more tightly” than before. She was able to make light of the down time by improving her own personal growth through learning more about her field and achieving new certification to plan for her gym’s future.

Like many businesses, Bisignano’s staff became displaced during the gym closure, some of them having obtained second jobs.

“I am so lucky to have such a strong bond with my staff and they do keep me going because every single one of them is working full time and offered to still come back and work part-time shifts,” she said.

“I am able to actually get a full schedule with my existing staff, and I will probably be hiring extra staff to fill in the gaps. I have been so fortunate in that area and I am so grateful. To have to train new staff on top of everything else would have been a really big challenge right now.”

As for the timing, this particular time of year is the “absolute least-busiest time of year” for gyms because it’s summer. People are spending time outside, on the trails, at the lake, and at their camps.

To add to Bisignano’s worries, memberships that she put on hold for her clients out of understanding during the first few closures just won’t be attainable this time and people may expect her to continue with the gesture.

“There was a lot of well-founded hesitation about coming back to the gym because of people who were at high risk or people who were taking care of loved ones who are high risk. So, we allowed people to hold their memberships without penalty during all of our previous reopenings,” she said. “I’m just really afraid that people are going to expect that same offer in this reopening and say, ‘Well we aren’t coming back until September so can you just keep my membership on hold until then?’ and that is just not feasible.”

Another concern is the complacency of her clients in becoming “really dedicated” to their home gym or their new routine and not needing a facility to work out in.

“I’m not thinking all is lost by any stretch,” said Bisignano.

“I have had a lot of positive response from people excited to come back to the gym and asking me if I am selling memberships, day passes and new class schedule right off the bat. But man, it feels so good to get back in the right mindset and remember why I did this in the first place for a passion for the industry. I’m getting there.”

She added that she can definitely see where this reopening “feels different” than the last ones in a positive way. Many have received two vaccine doses now.

“I wouldn’t have been in a locally owned small business for the past 18-and-a-half years if I didn’t have a passion and love for fitness and I’m not turning back anytime soon,” she said.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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