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St. Louis-area gym owners fear omicron’s spread is keeping people home

A row of dumbbells sits unused at the L.A.B. Gym in St. Louis. Owner Chris Thacker said business is typically good early in the new year, but this year people are staying away because of the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus
Niara Savage
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A row of dumbbells sits unused Monday morning at the L.A.B. Gym in St. Louis. Owner Chris Thacker said business is typically good early in the new year, but this year people are staying away because of the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus

St. Louis-area gyms aren’t seeing the typical rush of new members acting on their New Year’s resolution to get in shape.

Gym owners say the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus is keeping people home and leading to fewer of the new memberships that many gyms depend on early in the year.

The number of potential new members contacting the L.A.B Gym in St. Louis is down significantly, owner Chris Thacker said.

“We generally would have seen probably 10 to 15 leads a day from Dec. 26 through to Jan. 2 between phone calls, drop-ins, website inquiries, etcetera,” Thacker said. "I don't know that we saw 15 over that 10-day period.”

A study last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that coronavirus can spread in gyms even when health measures like physical distancing are in place.

A 2021 survey of more than 10,000 gym members found that only about half of Americans who used gyms before they closed due to the pandemic planned to return to their gyms when they reopened.

Thacker said the number of new potential members a gym retains in a year often reflects how many joined at the start of the year.

“That first quarter of the year you could potentially set yourself up for the rest of the year,” Thacker said.

Most of the 15-year-old gym’s members come in for personal training. But even some of Thacker’s most loyal clients haven’t returned since March 2020, he said.

In 2020, the gym's revenues were down 70% from the previous year. Last year, revenues recovered somewhat but were still down 30% from 2019.

“It’s really a miracle that I’m still open,” Thacker said.

At this time of year, trainers at Crossfit MetroEast would usually be preparing for an influx of new clients, owner Josh Nimmo said.

“My staff would be ramping up for long hours for lots of new client appointments, lots of new consults,” Nimmo said. “We've actually shrunk down in the last two weeks because of the new boost of cases popping up.

“A lot of people are shrinking back home and staying out of the public,” he said.

To help offset losses, Nimmo is offering more virtual training options so the gym’s clients can work out from home.

Mask wearing also is a point of contention in gyms in the area. Thacker said some clients left his gym because of the mask mandate in St. Louis.

“A lot of people left the city gyms to go to the county because the city kept the mandate in place,” Thacker said.

Officials quarreled over mask mandates in the county last year. After St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and Health Director Faisal Khan announced the mandate in July, the St. Louis County Council voted to overturn it.

Circuit Judge Ellen Ribaudo ruled in August that the county did not have the authority to impose the mandate.

In December, the county lifted the mandate after Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green barred local health departments from issuing COVID-19 restrictions.

But last week, the council voted in favor of an indoor mask mandate, citing a rise in coronavirus cases across the region.

Follow Niara on Twitter: @niaraalexandra

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