A pair of Vernon gym owners say they’ve been unfairly cut out of provincial COVID-19 financial support after being ordered to close for four weeks, on top of ongoing restrictions that have affected their businesses.
A provincial health order announced Dec. 21, 2021, forced gyms, fitness centres and dance studios to close for four weeks in response to rising COVID-19 cases. On Jan. 12, the B.C. government announced the COVID-19 Closure Relief Grant to allow affected businesses to recoup some losses that resulted from the closure.
Terrence Limbert, owner of Forge Valley Fitness, applied for the grant, but his gym was denied funding because it was still able to operate its youth program and therefore didn’t shut down entirely.
Limbert says that wasn’t how the grant opportunity was originally presented.
“Originally this grant would have been eligible for all businesses affected by the Dec. 22 order, including businesses restricted to 50 per cent capacity,” he said.
“We thought we’ll do our part, we’ll do the right thing and stay closed because the government’s going to help us out, but now that’s been taken away,” Limbert added. “It feels like we’ve been betrayed, honestly.”
Forge Valley’s youth program accounts for just “a small chunk” of the gym’s revenue, Limbert said. Meanwhile, the impacts of the closure were “massive.”
“We rely heavily on recurring monthly memberships. And when memberships drop off they don’t always come back, so when our business is closed for four weeks and we open our doors, we don’t just jump back to pre-closure revenue,” Limbert said.
Jeremy Meredith, owner of CrossFit Vernon, had the same experience of being denied the chance to apply for the grant — presumably because his gym also operated a youth program, although he still hasn’t been given an official reason for why his gym did not qualify. He says the four-week closure cost his business about $12,000, on top of COVID-19 measures such as vaccine passports.
“When the vaccine card was implemented back in September, we had 11 members cancel their monthly recurring memberships, and at $175 a month, there’s $2,000 a month,” he said, adding that less than 10 per cent of the gym’s gross monthly revenue comes from its youth program.
The closure also took place during the new year season, which gyms rely on for a membership bump. Meredith said fortunately for him, the new year’s rush came once the gym was allowed to reopen in late January.
Ultimately, Meredith said his business is now back to being profitable, but he’s gone from having a debt-free business to being tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
“The damage that’s been done is going to take years to recover from,” he said.
Both gym owners say the province should make gyms like theirs eligible for the next round of funding, and should also be compensated for losses to date.
“All gyms, every business that’s been affected by this recent order, needs to be eligible for this grant,” Limbert said. “We’re still operating under restrictions that have been placed on us in terms of our capacity and what we’re doing in our facility, and we haven’t recovered from being closed for four weeks.”
Based on their size, both gyms would have been eligible for $5,000 in relief through the grant program. While that would help, Meredith says he would first like to see a relaxation in restrictions on how gyms operate.
“First and foremost, allowing us to operate with a little more freedom. Removing the vaccine card would be a really good start,” he said.
The Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation did not respond to a request for comment in time for this story’s publication.