Opinion: Michigan leaders should listen to small gym owners

Ken Welch

This year was supposed to have been a celebration of our 25th year in business as Pointe Fitness and Training. Turns out we’re celebrating that milestone after almost four months of being closed.

Like many small gyms we’re nothing without our members. We’re not part of a city recreation program, and we don't have a corporate security net. We’re still open, but others haven’t been so lucky — like my friends downriver at Trenton A.C. that closed after serving the community for 42 years. A few gyms have opened for the sake of survival but run the risk of not having any mishap or accident covered by their insurance because they were open illegally.

Pointe Fitness owner Ken Welch

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s refusal to agree to any of our suggestions about how we could open in a safe manner has put us all in a serious bind.

Now, I need to say this: All one has to do is watch the news to understand that no matter my circumstances as a small business/gym owner, compared to so many others in this virus fight — heroes and victims — I’m OK. In fact, I feel guilty voicing any complaint but there are issues.

For most of us who own a small gym, it’s a place we started and financed out of our own pocket. Even for a franchised name like an Anytime Fitness, there’s an individual who had to come up with the funds to get it started and that’s not cheap. Add the countless number of small fitness studios run by trainers and instructors who have a passion for training and a desire to share it with others.

It’s all on hold.

I am curious about the distinction Whitmer makes between a personal training session that has one or two clients with a trainer usually six feet between them and a medical, dental, tattoo or salon appointment where that’s not the case — but they’re open.

Look, we take the pandemic seriously but we know we can work with our memberships and make our facilities available to our members in a safe and healthy way given the opportunity. The frustration we feel is when we see other types of businesses open ahead of us that defies any logic or makes any sense.

A hypothetical question: What do you think is more manageable during a pandemic? Patrons drinking and socializing, even at reduced numbers, in a bar, or an already  health-conscious membership, people familiar to their small gym and its owner, who are aware and willing to follow whatever protocols necessary so they can keep their gym open and keep working out?            

I know which group I would put my money on. 

Gym owners and their staff know their members. I know my members would gladly help by scheduling workouts to spread out capacity at high usage times. They would cooperate with proper distancing and cleaning equipment. They’d wear mask without complaint, remind each other about sanitizing hands and accept limited hours. Some gyms, mine included, were wiping down equipment before it was required.

People often have a deep misunderstanding of gyms and their clientele. People love their small gyms and will do what it takes to protect them and keep them going. During this pandemic, I want to provide the tools for healthy people to stay healthy, but I need Michigan's leaders to listen. 

Because after all, isn't what we want healthy people?

Ken Welch is the owner of Pointe Fitness in Harper Woods.