Owners of boutique gyms and fitness centers flooded a San Francisco Small Business Commission meeting Monday night and pleaded for permission to reopen.
In a series of speeches grouped under the title “Help Save Us from Complete Collapse,” members of the San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition addressed Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón with an array of emotional and data-based appeals.
“It’s somewhat confusing to me as to why I can’t be 20 feet away from someone and instructing them how to do push-ups while both of us wear masks,” said Evan Mather, owner of Custom Fit, whose Market Street facility has 18-foot ceilings. “At the same time, I can get in an Uber car, go to an airport, sit in the middle seat of a plane, fly to San Diego and go shopping for expensive jeans. It’s ridiculous.
“It doesn’t seem like science is dictating these decisions.”
Aragón addressed the Small Business Commission for 90 minutes.
“I’m not an expert on all of the various ways that people run businesses,” Aragón told the commission. “I just want to know ventilation, physical distancing, face-masking and core principles. At the health-officer level, we’re thinking: ‘What are some levers we can pull?’ We don’t want to get into the business of all of these individual capabilities. It puts us in a really difficult situation, because I can’t give you a rational reason.”
After asking to leave, he was obliged to stay to hear more speakers. Public comments were reduced from three to two minutes apiece to accommodate all the interested parties.
Sometimes ducking his head and sometimes taking notes, Aragón stayed for the next hour as more than a dozen members of the boutique-fitness coalition peppered him with questions and pointed comments.
Dave Karraker, co-owner of MX3 Fitness, said he had laid off 10 people and amassed a debt of more than $20,000 since March. Mystie Webster said she has a personal guarantee on the remaining two years of a 10-year lease for her studio on Van Ness, so her only options are to hang on and go into massive debt or declare bankruptcy.
Lisa Thomure opened a Pilates studio in January.
“I have no option but to close permanently, unless I want to spend the rest of my life paying off debts I acquired in opening my business,” Thomure said. “You are saying that our knowledge and understanding of this virus is evolving weekly, even daily. But your knowledge has not evolved, at all.”
The meeting format did not allow for Dr. Aragón to respond to the public comments, even though it appeared he wanted to several times on the WebEx conference.
Shuttered since the mid-March shelter-in-place order, the coalition of small neighborhood fitness studios failed in a recent bid to be allowed to reopen. Its members are now asking to be treated almost like physical therapists, with fitness practitioners doing one-on-one training without actually touching the clients.
The coalition represents more than 60 small studios that employ more than 700 people and provide health services to more than 22,000 San Francisco residents. It estimates that its businesses are losing $9 million a month.
On July 27, the coalition filed a Public Records Act request, demanding all “data and analysis on which the mayor and the health officer have based their orders to close fitness facilities in San Francisco.” San Francisco officials on Thursday requested an additional two weeks to pull together the information.
The fitness industry believes its mental and physical health benefits should garner “essential” status. But it is widely believed that salons, massage studios and tattoo parlors will be the first personal services allowed to reopen after counties move off the state’s watch list.
“When you go to your doctor, he asks four questions. ‘How much are you sleeping? Are you smoking? Are you drinking? How much exercise are you getting?’” Karraker said. “He doesn’t ask how many haircuts or massages you got. He doesn’t ask, ‘Did you get any new tattoos?’”