Melbourne gyms to reopen from November 9, but COVIDSafe restrictions threaten their viability

Melbourne gyms

Kaya Health Clubs co-founders Christian and Koula Ruggeri. Source: supplied.

Melbourne’s gyms and fitness studios may have a reopening date in sight, but the COVID-19 restrictions in place mean these businesses will be lucky if they’re breaking even any time soon.

Yesterday saw Melbourne business owners and consumers alike utter a collective sigh of relief, as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced long-awaited reopening dates for city businesses.

Retail, hospitality and beauty businesses will be able to reopen tomorrow, with staff already permitted to be on the ground making COVIDSafe preparations.

But, for gyms, fitness studios and health clubs, the wait is a little longer.

As of 11.59pm on November 8, gyms will be allowed to reopen, but with strict requirements in place.

Up to 20 people will be allowed in a facility at any given time, with up to 10 people per individual space.

Businesses will also have to adhere to a density limit of one person per 8 square metres.

One such business is Kaya Health Clubs, a yoga and pilates studio headed up by husband and wife team Christian and Koula Ruggeri.

Kaya has one venue in Melbourne’s CBD and another on Chapel Street.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Christian Ruggeri says while this is a good start, frankly, it’s not going to turn the business around, financially.

“Is it going to be viable for us as a business? Definitely not,” he says.

Kaya has been closed, for the most part, since March 23, with the exception of 16 days in June, before the second lockdown.

Each location has five separate studio spaces, and each of them typically caters to classes of between 26 and 30 people at a time.

Even adding 40% more classes, they’re not able to cater to the number of members they normally would.

There are members that haven’t been able to book into a class. And a lack of capacity makes it impossible to attract new members.

Since March, Ruggeri estimates that Kaya has lost 20% to 25% of its members across both locations.

People have terminated memberships because they’ve lost their jobs and are facing financial hardship. Others have relocated out of the city or out of the state. Some have even left the country, he says.

“They won’t be coming back,” he adds.

“Totally unjustifiable”

There is something of a “silver lining” for Ruggeri.

Kaya’s studios are big enough that the maximum of 10 people can attend a class, while still adhering to the 8 square metre rule, he says.

That won’t be the case for smaller studios.

“I really do feel for those gyms, those studios out there that have a very small space,” he says.

By comparison, restaurants, bars and pubs will be able to open to up to 10 patrons per indoor space as of tomorrow, with density requirements of one person per 4 square metres.

In a statement, director of Vision PT Prahran Nathan Weidemann said it’s “extraordinary” that people will be able to go for a meal down the pub before they’re able to go to a gym or fitness facility.

Gyms are likely cleaner environments, he argues.

“With swipe cards and booking systems already in place at gyms, along with cleaning protocols already standardised, the fitness sector is and has always been prepared,” he added.

“This is totally unjustifiable.”

The only way is up

The announcement yesterday followed a few weeks of confusion, with proposed reopening dates shifting and changing, and delays causing frustration for small businesses.

In the COVID-19 environment, an awful lot can happen in two weeks.

But, Ruggeri is confident that the November 9 reopening date will stick.

“[Andrews] really can’t go backwards from this,” he says.

The news also followed months of lobbying from the sector. He knew businesses like his would be facing tight restrictions.

Even if it’s not a viable business proposition, he’s glad there’s an end in sight.

And, this is only the first step. Ruggeri is actually feeling pretty positive about what comes next.

This business is about more than financial viability, he says.

Part of the reason the founders are opening up is to support their community, their staff and their members, in terms of their mental wellbeing.

“Let’s just prove to the government that we are safe, and let’s be positive about it,” he says.

“Hopefully in a few weeks’ time they can further ease restrictions and we can become like Sydney.

“That’s the purpose. That’s the goal.”

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