From SoulCycle To SLT, New York’s Boutique Fitness Industry Fights For Survival As Other Gyms Reopen Today

From posh sweat studios to gritty boxing gyms, the boutique fitness industry in New York City is feeling the financial crunch with orders to remain closed while regular gyms are allowed to reopen today. 

As gyms across the country await state-by-state reopening rules, companies like SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, Mile High Run Club and ConBody are just some of the 2000 studios banding together to fight for indoor classes to resume in the boutique fitness mecca of New York City, where many of these brands launched before expanding to other regions.

“These are typically businesses in direct competition with each other but now we’re very united,” says Amanda Freeman, founder and CEO of SLT. 

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gave gyms the green light to open as early as August 24th, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed the opening date for city-based gyms to September 2nd. These exercise multiplexes and health clubs are allowed to open today at 33{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} capacity as long as specific guidelines and safety rules are followed. They must also pass a virtual health inspection. 

While NYC gyms can reopen, indoor group fitness (yoga, Pilates, spin, boxing, etc) cannot. This prompted Freeman and her peers to mobilize and form the Boutique Fitness Alliance. “We’ve been patiently waiting for gyms to reopen and then to find out that gyms can but group fitness studios couldn’t was shocking and disappointing,” says Freeman. “We have been having to pay rent as long as possible, while fighting with landlords to stay in our buildings.” The fitness group has launched social campaigns and rallies to push for immediate reopening.

The Boutique Fitness Alliance has also announced it is joining the larger New York Fitness Coalition in its plans to file a class action lawsuit representing more than 2000 gyms next week against the City of New York and Mayor de Blasio for keeping indoor fitness classes shut past September 2nd. 

Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, told the New York Daily News: “We will always encourage New Yorkers to exercise and stay active. But indoor exercise is not without risk. We’re being as innovative as possible with virtual inspections to ensure that fitness center staff are following the safety guidelines.” De Blasio has also stated that health inspectors must first prioritize schools and child care centers before gyms.

But the fitness companies are not warming up to the rationale of the officials. “The City’s inability to inspect us isn’t a reason to keep us shuttered another day,” says Charles Cassara, president of the NYFC. “We have remained shut seven weeks past phase four, for what has turned out to be with no real cause. Today, we are letting the Mayor know that he has exceeded his authority and our industry will be seeking an injunction.”

“We can be just as safe as regular gyms and we’re urging the mayor to reopen every studio and business under the Boutique Fitness Alliance,” says Freeman, who spearheads the group. She plans to add plexiglass barriers between equipment. “All the boutique gyms offer such unique disciplines, so there’s no one size fits all when it comes to adding an extra layer of safety but we can all follow the same basic guidelines as gyms.”

Freeman opened the first SLT (which stands for Strength Lengthen and Tone) in 2011 and has since opened 26 studios, 18 of which are in New York. Since shutting down in March, she had to lay off 100{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} of her staff and contractors. 

The nature of SLT workouts has also made pivoting complicated during the pandemic.

“It’s done on large equipment that no one has in their home so it’s not an obvious transition to online or outdoor classes,” says Freeman. On August 24, upon being unable to reopen with NYS gyms, she resorted to launching SLT on Demand which offers varying workouts designed for those with or without the machine at home. 

SLT isn’t the only one dashing to keep their fitness community alive. Last month, Rumble launched a 21-day online “Summer Camp” fitness challenge while DanceBody began a rooftop pop-up #socialdisDance series at Showfields. SLT, Fhitting Room, Soulcycle, Equinox, Y7, Solidcore, Barry’s Bootcamp, FlyWheel, Bar Method, New York Pilates, Mile High Run Club, ConBody, GRITBXNG, Physique 57, Swerve, Liftonic, and BODYROK are the other brands that have joined the Boutique Fitness Alliance.

But according to Mindbody, the leading platform that allows gym-goers to book studio workouts at more than 10,000 gyms around the world, outdoors and online are not enough to keep members engaged at the same pre-pandemic levels. As of August 2020, consumer bookings through Mindbody in the U.S. were down 70{554322552816a46baa129cc1ab31b2aae22be5e23f407658ace83a643d80b0e9} year-over-year. But the company reports that week-over-week growth has recently spiked, as restrictions have lifted in certain states.

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