Nfld. & Labrador

Harbour Grace gym shuts, as latest rec facility hit by COVID-19 restrictions

The owner of Rock Fitness says she can't operate her business model under government guidelines.

Gov't guidelines don't allow for unstaffed facilities

Angela Evely opened up the Rock Fitness Centre four years ago, and says when it closes the nearest gym will be in Bay Roberts or St. John's. (Submitted by Angela Evely)

In the latest in a string of recreational facility closures, the owners of the only gym in Harbour Grace have called it quits, saying government guidelines make it impossible for their business model to work.

The Rock Fitness Centre won't be opening back up to the public, despite the province's go-ahead for gyms, given when Newfoundland and Labrador hit Level 2 on June 25. Those guidelines state that all gyms must be staffed for all opening hours, but the Rock operated on a keycard system that allowed its members to use the mostly unstaffed facility 24 hours a day.

One word sums up the gym's biggest problem.

"Payroll," said Angela Evely, the facility's co-owner, who also founded the gym four years ago.

Before the pandemic closed the gym in March, Evely staffed it four hours a day, to catch up on membership paperwork and clean the facility. Increasing those hours would cost between $7,000 and $8,000 a month, an unsustainable figure, particularly when her landlord — the town's stadium — dictated the gym could only be open during its operating hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, meaning she would miss out on the prime workout hours on evenings and weekends.

Top that off with the challenge of spacing equipment six feet apart in already tight quarters, and she and her partner felt they had no choice.

"We had everything ready to reopen, before the guidelines came out. When the guidelines came out is when we made up our mind," she said.

"We were trying to figure out ways around it, but there was really nothing we could do."

The Rock Fitness Centre is no more, as its founder says she can't pay to staff the facility as per provincial COVID-19 guidelines. (The Rock Fitness Centre)

The provincial guidelines state staffing is necessary to enforce the regulations. "Maintaining physical distancing cannot be ensured if patrons have uncontrolled access," the rules say.

Other closures

The Rock joins a growing trend across the province, as several recreational facilities have not reopened despite the official OK.

The municipal recreational complex for Conception Bay South, which includes the town's pool and squash courts, is closed, with the town saying in a press release the move was made out of safety reasons.

Things seem to run a bit smoother with the spacing of the equipment and stuff like that.- Shane Monahan, AgeRight Health and Fitness

"Given that this is the season when our pool is least utilized, and will therefore have the least impact on pool users, we are going to keep the facility closed," said Mayor Terry French, in the release.

St. Anthony's town council also decided to keep its pool closed for the summer, and the pool in Rocky Harbour  — operated by Parks Canada — is also shut. Other places are taking a different approach, such as the pool and gym at 9 Wing Gander, which is trialling a limited membership to its military members before attempting a public reopening.

Making it work

Other places, however, are trying to balance making the restrictions work while still offering workouts.

AgeRight Health and Fitness in St. John's has reopened, and its owner says spacing the equipment further apart has actually helped in some cases, as the gym specializes in senior fitness and some members use wheelchairs to navigate the space.

"Things seem to run a bit smoother with the spacing of the equipment and stuff like that. There's a lot more room to access things," said owner Shane Monahan.

The pool at the Conception Bay South Recreation Complex isn't open this summer, due to concerns over health and safety. (Twitter/CBS Bluefins)

While the number of members Monahan sees from day-to-day hasn't settled into a regular pattern, he said many returning people see the gym as a coping mechanism for dealing with COVID-19-related anxiety and isolation.

"Some people are delighted to be back," he said.

Despite some satisfied customers, Monahan said the financial side of his business has been hit hard by both Snowmageddon and COVID-19.

"It is what it is, and we need to try to navigate through it as best we can," he said.

"It's just another bump in the road, really for us."

For Rock Fitness, however, there will be no coming back from the damage the coronavirus has done.

"We're selling off all the equipment," said Evely. "We're just sad to see it go."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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