Valley News – New Hampshire gyms bounce back strong after harsh pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit more than two years ago, gym owners wondered what the future might look like.

Get Fit NH owner Meagan Baron was in an especially difficult position when she realized shortly after the pandemic that her business, in its current state, would struggle to recover.

Baron, owner of the Concord club for six years, could not safely reopen her group training. Her space was only 400 square feet, which wasn’t big enough to properly distance her members.

He decided to take a big leap, even though at the time he was only offering online and recorded classes and saw his membership drop to 226 from 277 before the pandemic. She moved into a 10,000-square-foot space that was outfitted with huge garage doors on both ends for proper air circulation.

“The move was definitely a blessing in disguise,” explained Baron. “It has been one of those rare positives (during the pandemic). I look at space now and wonder how I was able to operate before.”

In just a year and a half at the new location, Get Fit NH’s membership has steadily increased and has now eclipsed 300.

With the additional space, Baron is now able to offer its growing membership services such as physical therapy and dietitian.

Its growth coincides with a national trend that has seen increased visits to the gym in the last 12 months. National chain Planet Fitness, based in Hampton, was at 97% of pre-pandemic membership levels, with more than 15.5 million members nationally, according to a November CNBC interview with CEO Chris Rondeau. At many other gyms, like Get Fit NH, membership has surpassed pre-pandemic days.

“(Three hundred members) was my goal when I got into this business,” Baron said. “I just cleared that up in the last three months. And I continue to see steady growth.”

People are getting tired of online training options, so they choose to search for gym communities and open new memberships. All of that has led to a surge in gym memberships nationally, according to data analysis by Placer Lab, a software company that uses foot traffic to decipher trends. The report found that in the fourth quarter of 2021 there was a 2.5% increase in memberships over the fourth quarter of 2019, just before the start of the pandemic.

The new, larger space at Get Fit NH allowed members like Kate Fox to come back and be a part of the gym community again.

As the world began to change in March 2020 with the onset of the pandemic, Fox’s life also took a U-turn as she was saddled with the daunting task of caring for her elderly mother while continuing to work full time. More than ever she needed Get Fit NH, where she has been a member for 11 years.

“I missed the camaraderie. I missed the workout,” said Fox, 62, who now lives in northern Vermont but still visits Concord and Get Fit NH a couple of days a week.

Baron feels more people are coming back to the gym for more than just a physical workout. He noted that the pandemic has taken a mental toll on many: the mental release from a workout or camaraderie is just as important as a toned or muscular body.

“People come here for emotional and mental health as much as physical health,” he said. “There’s more emphasis on that in gyms, more than ever. I’ve said it throughout our lockdown: People need people.”

The same desire has new members arriving.

“I think the drive for people to start something came from mental and emotional stress rather than their physical health,” Baron said. “It’s a very rewarding feeling (as a gym owner) for sure.”

River Valley Club in Lebanon is not at its pre-pandemic numbers. The club currently has just over 1,700 members, up from 3,000 at the end of January 2020. Still, owner Elizabeth Asch feels her business is headed in the right direction thanks to changes at the club since March 2020. .

The club built an outdoor space for workouts and classes, now offers free memberships to those over 90, and, as with most clubs, has been adamant about cleanliness.

“We turned every stone to think about what we can do. It was really about staying in business,” Asch said. “People wanted to exercise. I wanted to show the community that we are committed to growing even in difficult times, to meet their needs.”

That was evident during the club’s four-month shutdown at the start of the pandemic when employees at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which is across the street from the River Valley Club, were given a free membership that included online and online classes. live. A few hundred members joined in the first few days, and many remained members after four months.

Asch has also started collaborating with other club owners, something unheard of before the pandemic, to share ideas and initiatives to help everyone prosper.

“I think we’re better than ever,” Asch said, “because we listen more and because we’re more involved in the community.”

Jamie and Kristen Brause opened their exclusive New London fitness studio, Hungry Hearts Gym + Kitchen, at just the right time.

The couple moved from Cambridge, Massachusetts to provide the community with a place where they can exercise and learn how important it is to eat healthy with on-site nutrition, culinary education, and meals to take home.

The idea has been a great success. Hungry Hearts eclipsed 100 members in the first three months after opening in August 2021, matching the national trend of increased gym visits. The gym currently has 130 members.

“Our membership has grown steadily since day one and it hasn’t been any different in the last two months,” said Kristen Brause, head of nutrition for the business. “We continue to see more and more walk-ins, scheduled visits and new members. There hasn’t been a week in the last two months that we haven’t welcomed several new members.”

Brause agrees with trends and polls that people just want to get back in the gym, worrying less about masks and COVID policies. With immunizations and club attention to cleanliness, members can focus on staying healthy.

“I think the continued increase is due in part to the fact that the first questions people ask are no longer ‘What are your policies on masks and vaccinations?’ but rather ‘What is your philosophy and approach and how can it help me achieve my goals?’ Brause said. “Now we can go straight to discussing what we do here and how we can help.”

People now base their decision to join on what Hungry Hearts has to offer. While health and cleanliness are always a priority, it’s nice to be able to focus on basics again, Brause said.

“That was one of the most challenging aspects of opening our business when we did it,” he said.

This article is being shared by partners at the Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit www.colaborativenh.org.

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