A nearly empty gym can be great for social distancing, but for gym owners still trying to rebound from pandemic losses, it can be disastrous.
At Healthworks in Back Bay, the number of people coming in to work out is less than half what it was before the start of the pandemic, said Jody Hinman, the general manager.
But she said the club recently registered its highest number of new members since 2020. She gives some of the credit to the city’s new vaccine mandate, which takes effect in what is typically the busiest month for health clubs.
As of Saturday, Jan. 15, gym goers in Boston have to show proof they've been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I think it’s a little bit of our marketing and how we’ve been ... encouraging members to get back in here,” Hinman said. “But I do feel that the mandate has a little bit of an impact, creating a safer environment for people that may have been hesitant before.
The mandate, known as B Together, requires people 12 and older to show proof of vaccination to enter gyms, restaurants, museums and entertainment venues in Boston. Customers and employees must show proof of at least one vaccine dose, and be fully vaccinated as of Feb. 15.
“We’re happy to have the mandate and be able to check people’s vaccines, make sure everyone’s as safe as we possibly can be in the club,” said Hinman.
Not everyone in the club was as enthusiastic.
Before knocking out a set of barbell hip thrusts, Christa Ellis of South Boston said she understands why the city is implementing the mandate — she’s vaxxed and boosted herself — but what other people do makes no difference to her.
“I'm not super concerned whether or not people choose to be vaccinated,” Ellis said. “That doesn't make me feel any less safe or prohibit me from going out at all.”
Sabina Lee of Brookline, said she supports the new requirement, but she would like the city to go further by increasing access to testing and distributing masks.
“I feel like the recent surge is a policy failure,” Lee said. “In my opinion, I feel like they should be doing more.”
According to a report by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, by July 2021, more than 20% of gyms and studios across the country had closed their doors during the pandemic, and the fitness industry lost over $29 billion during the same period.
Patrick McDonagh owns body + fuel in Dorchester, a small boutique gym that offers group workout sessions. He said he's been able to stay afloat with loyal members, and even picked up some new ones this month.
Still, he's concerned the mandate may send some current members out of the city to work out, and that could hurt him.
“There's a handful that I know of that have been asking, ‘Am I going to mandate it?’ And I'm like, ‘Well, I'm a business in the city, so I don't really have much of a choice,’ ” said McDonagh. “We'll see what happens.”
Gym goers looking to dodge Boston’s mandate may find it increasingly hard to do. Brookline launched its own vaccine requirement, also on Jan. 15. So far, Cambridge has no plans for a similar mandate but John Pecchia, owner of Get In Shape For Women in Cambridge, is taking matters into his own hands.
“[I'd] just rather be overcautious than undercautious,” he said.
Pecchia plans to ask members to show proof of vaccination, especially now as new members come in.
“Knowing that other people around them are vaccinated will keep everybody a little bit more at ease,” he said.
This segment aired on January 15, 2022.