Fitness centers in the region weather COVID in different ways

Health outlets find ways to stay viable indoors and out.

On Sept. 1, Riverton Health and Fitness saw its first day of operations — indoor or anywhere else — since COVID-19 forced its closure in mid-March. Pictured at the Main Street gym, with health and safety protocols in place, are owner Jason Cioci (left) and Allan Berg (right).

In recent months, gyms and fitness centers across the state have eagerly awaited the opportunity to reopen their indoor areas at limited capacity.

Fortunately, Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order in late August that allowed gyms and fitness centers to reopen Sept. 1 as long as they follow specific protocols and procedures. The opportunity to reopen, for many gyms, has been a long time coming.

Steve Scian, owner of The Firm in Marlton, says his gym has been preparing for some sort of reopening for months now.

“We knew it was going to happen at some point, and since we were able to do personal training in the building already for quite some time, we were already keeping everything in order and cleaning the place,” he said. 

While Scian said some gym regulars returned immediately to his location,  part of the problem moving forward will be to get previously casual gym-goers to return given that it’s been so long since gyms were open. 

“The problem is that, since gyms have been closed for so long, people have gotten kind of used to not coming,” Scian noted. “It’s a little bit of a challenge to get people to come back in. It’s kind of hard to gauge since it’s still only been a couple days. but part of it moving forward will be trying to remind people we’re open again.”

Karen Kurtz, owner of Kettle Belle Fitness in Haddon Township, said she’s glad to return to full strength.

“My business went into a standstill when gyms were shuttered completely, and it only came back when Murphy said you could again start to do things outdoors,” she added. “On July 6, we reopened outside. I have my clients who come in for private consultations and we set up outside on the sidewalk in front of the building. 

“We don’t have to wear masks outside, but some of our clients are comfortable and some are not,” Kurtz explained. “What it means, setting up, is that I teach for an hour. I have to arrive 45 minutes beforehand to do all the set-up, and it’s twice the amount of effort for the same price.”

Kurtz has elected to keep her business outdoors, primarily for health reasons. She’s the primary caregiver for her parents, who live with her, and presides over a family of five children. 

“If I get infected while teaching, I am a direct vector, and a potential cause of both my parents dying,” she explained. “The burden is on me to keep my place as germ free as possible.

“I also have a responsibility to my clients. I have some younger, but to be honest, the hard workers and the most motivated are older,” Kurtz added. “The instant-gratification generation kinda falls away when things get difficult.”

No matter how owners prepare to recoup losses from the last five months, sometimes the unexpected and unpleasant will occur as the public gradually returns to old routines. Such was the case at Riverton Health and Fitness on Sept. 1. 

Shortly before the Sun held a conversation on site with owner Jason Cioci, a gym member wearing a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat confronted Cioci over the gym’s health and safety protocols.  

The young man walked in without a mask; refused to accept one when Cioci offered it in a sealed plastic bag; and complained, loudly, about social-distancing policies recited by the owner. He only relented when Cioci offered to “freeze” his membership — not charging him any dues — until such time when masks and social distancing would not be mandatory.

“You have to wear a mask, no exceptions,” Cioci revealed. “We have cleaning stations. We have every other treadmill (available for use) now. So everything is 6 feet away.

“We’re complying with what needs to be done,” he added. “People who are coming back now, right at the beginning, are the ones who feel safe and secure and want to get back to health.”

The gym is open for exercise, but also serves as a nexus point for community relations, since its membership draws from Riverton, Palmyra, Cinnaminson, Delran, Delanco and Riverside. Cioci believes you’re just as likely to catch up with friends and neighbors there as anywhere else on the street. 

It’s that local connection, the neighborhood touch, that Cioci said will help his business weather the coming months.

“I’ve been the owner for 27 years. We started here in 1993. We’ve been through a fire in 2001 and COVID since March,” he offered. 

“We had to shut down March 15; we were one of the first ones to shut down, and we were one of the last ones to open. So, I want to thank all the members who kept their memberships active, because without them, we would not be able to open.”