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Lakeview, Boystown, Wrigleyville

Workout Reservations, Temperature Checks: Small Gym Owners Getting Ready To Safely Reopen … Eventually

Small outdoor fitness classes will be allowed in in Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan, but big gyms must wait for Phase 4.

Edge Athlete Lounge, a small boutique gym in Bucktown, has been closed since Illinois' stay-at-home order started mid-March.
Mike Killion
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LAKEVIEW — Robyn LaLonde imagines a new normal for her small, boutique gym in Bucktown when Illinois’ stay at home restrictions finally lift.

Upon entering the 6,000-square-foot facility, Edge Athlete Lounge members would have their temperatures checked by the gym’s new infrared thermometers at the doorways, LaLonde said. The reception area would also serve as a face mask, hand-washing and sanitizing checkpoint. Workouts would be scheduled through a reservation system to control capacity and leave allotted time for thorough cleaning.

Without any guidance from the state, LaLonde and other small gym owners are brainstorming safety measures that would allow gyms to reopen safely. She hopes small facilities like hers will be included in Phase 3 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.

Chicago is poised to enter Phase 3 of the plan by the end of the month, the governor said last week. Pritzker said that stage of reopening allows gyms to conduct outdoor classes and individual personal training with “safety guidance” from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Outdoor recreation in Phase 3 is limited to no more than 10 people who must practice social distancing.

In introducing the reopening plan earlier this month, Pritzker said all gyms are included among businesses that can reopen in Phase 4 with new capacity limits, but he did not specify what those restrictions would be.

Ronald Hershow, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, said it could be easier for smaller gyms to adjust to new safety protocols. For one thing, smaller gyms might find it easier to limit capacity and regularly sanitize all corners of the facility, Hershow said.

Still, he doesn’t see such facilities as necessarily having an advantage over big gyms.

“It’s not a black-and-white thing where one size is safer than the other,” Hershow said. “The big, cavernous gyms have more room to space people out on machines, while smaller gyms have a greater level of intimacy during workouts.”

Like most small businesses, Edge has struggled during the pandemic and is eager to reopen.

According to LaLonde, Edge’s monthly revenue is down about 65 percent and new memberships have nearly halted. She and her husband have applied for six small business loans and grants, but they only received one.

“We’ve been out of cash flow for six weeks, and it’s backed us into a tight corner,” LaLonde said. “If we don’t get to reopen soon, we’ll have to start making some serious changes to our business.”

Credit: Provided
Robyn LaLonde co-owns Edge Athlete Lounge with her husband, Brian LaLonde.

In the meantime, Edge Athlete Lounge has shifted its programming online, LaLonde said. The gym offers digital fitness classes and virtual one-on-one check-ins.

Evolve Fitness Chicago, a boutique personal training studio in Lakeview, argued in a blog post before the stay at home order began that “gym-based exercise can be safe” during the pandemic and offers “several important health and safety benefits during this uncertain time.”

Meghan Payne, who owns the studio with husband Craig Payne, said they have since been brainstorming new safety protocols to implement upon reopening, and she hopes to see more guidance soon.

“When life gets back in motion, things will look a lot different, but I think [we] are very well positioned to ensure safety,” she said.

For now, Hershow, of UIC, encouraged people to rely on outdoor workouts like running or exercising in large, open areas where they can spread out.

“We’re not quite there in terms of flattening the curve where any gym could reopen safely,” Hershow said.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Boystown and Lincoln Park for Block Club Chicago.

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