Washington's extended COVID-19 restrictions cripples fitness industry, New Year's resolutions

For a lot of people, a new year means flooding the gym to achieve new health resolutions. Business owners in the fitness industry said this time of year is their biggest moneymaker. However, with gyms closed in Washington due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, they are struggling to survive the impacts of 2020.

An empty gym is how Academy Athletics is welcoming 2021, completely opposite from its record-breaking season earlier this year.

"January and February of 2020 really was. It was absolutely packed in here, people everywhere, all of our classes were full. There was great energy, people were getting results. It was definitely the best this business has ever done," said owner of Lionel Balland, Academy Athletics in Seattle’s Belltown Neighborhood.

Now his business is struggling to hang on as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into the New Year. Balland said they’re depending on virtual sessions to bring in every penny possible until gyms can reopen in Washington.

"This is a business that has been a life-long dream of mine. I put everything I’ve ever earned into opening this place and it’s just sad to see it go away when I know we have a good business," said Balland.

Good business will have to wait longer since Governor Jay Inslee extended restrictions to January 11. It’s right in the middle of the busiest season when gyms are helping people achieve their resolutions.

"New Years is the Super Bowl of the fitness industry. This is when our members are rejuvenated, refocused, getting back in. They’re trying to reach those goals," said Tanya Neilsen, owner of Thrive Community Fitness in Maple Valley.

Now the goal for gyms, like Neilsen’s, is trying to pay the bills to keep the lights on. She said it’s possible if officials would allow gyms to reopen.

"My plea to the governor and this state is, if nothing else, give us a fair 25% capacity across all businesses. To pick and choose what businesses operate at 25 percent and what ones can’t, I feel, is very unfair," said Neilsen.

State restrictions forced gyms to close twice in 2020. Balland said he’s optimistic he can one day reopen in 2021.

"We feel that we can make it, we just need a chance to. Let us open, let us do what we do, give us a chance to at least stay alive," said Balland.

Inslee said outdoor fitness classes are still allowed, but are limited to only five people per class. In a tweet, the governor said he will be announcing details next week about plans to safely reopen.