Excitement builds for local gym owners preparing to reopen

Jonathan Roberts • Apr 30, 2020 at 10:00 AM

When Lora Johnson closed her South Roan Street gym in late February in preparation for a move to Erwin, she was ecstatic.

Her excitement reached an all-time high on March 1, when her new, larger gym officially opened up at 1205 N. Main Ave. Less than three weeks later, however, Better Body 24/7 Fitness and Personal Training was forced to close its doors when Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee ordered gyms and fitness centers closed as part of the state’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It was heart-wrenching,” Johnson said of the closure. “It was a big move, it was really hard to do that, but I was excited to come to a better location, and then when the shutdown came — economically it was crushing and depressing. It hurt.”

In Johnson City, iTrain Fitness owner Michael Hardin said the shutdown has “been a disaster.”

“This is my income, and we didn’t have any income,” he said. “Plus what we’ve had to spend to get ready to be able to open and the money it will take to buy the products it takes to do all the extra cleaning — it’s been a big hit on us.”

While gyms across the state have been shuttered since March 23, it seems the worst may be over for them after Lee announced on Tuesday that gyms and fitness centers would be allowed to reopen Friday at reduced capacity and with certain restrictions, such as the closure of locker rooms and athletic courts.

“We feel that it is important for the mental and physical health of Tennesseans to have access to fitness environments,” the governor said during a press conference Tuesday.

Both Johnson and Hardin said they plan to follow the guidelines put forth by the state.

At iTrain, 103 LP Auer Road, every other cardio machine will be left unused to help keep guests spaced out, and Hardin will rotate machines in and out of service throughout the day to sanitize them. Communal spaces have been closed, and they’ve installed UV lights inside their ventilation system. Hardin also said that, while he thinks they’re already an incredibly sanitary gym, they’ll be more focused on the “more detailed stuff.”

“Before this ever happened, we were probably the cleanest gym in the Tri-Cities because that’s just how I was raised,” Hardin said. “So our cleaning protocols haven't changed a ton outside of more detailed stuff.”

Johnson said keeping her facility clean has “always been the No. 1 priority” for her.

“I’m thrilled, and the main thing now is to keep everything clean, sanitized and follow the guidelines so we can remain open,” Johnson said. “That’s the most important thing — I hope all gyms follow the guidelines because it only takes one gym to put us all back out again.”

bioPURE CEO Jim Wilson said his company, which uses electrostatic equipment to disinfect everything from homes to offices, is often contracted to clean gyms as they’re high-touch facilities.

“I said this before coronavirus, and I will continue to say this forever: We’re in an invisible fight,” Wilson said. “It’s an invisible fight against an invisible enemy we call a disease-causing germ.”

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