HAMMER: Working it out 

BY MATT WILSON

STAFF WRITER

McALLEN — Texans are getting back to work, and as of Monday, they’ll be getting back to working out as well.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders stipulate that as of May 18, gyms and exercise facilities may reopen at 25%, so long as everyone inside the facility is wearing gloves, machines are sanitized between each use, and locker rooms and showers remain closed.

The state also recommends gyms take a variety of other steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including spacing out exercise equipment, requiring employees to wear facemasks and training employees on appropriate sanitation techniques.

Many Rio Grande Valley gyms, including large chains Tru Fit and Gold’s Gym, are planning on reopening under those guidelines Monday and have been plastering their social media pages with the new hygiene guidelines and pictures of immaculately cleaned exercise equipment.

Arri Fitness in McAllen was celebrating its two-year anniversary in March when the pandemic forced it to close. It’s one of those gyms planning on opening Monday, and on Saturday its employees returned for the first time in over a month to clean and get ready for the big day.

Barbara Guerra, managing partner at Arri, said the gym will adhere to most of the new hygiene guidelines as best as possible. She doesn’t think keeping the gym clean will be that hard to accomplish.

“We are disinfecting everything, anything anybody could possibly touch. We’ve got our disinfectant and we’re sanitizing, but for the most part we don’t have to change that much because we were already doing those things,” she said. “That’s something I instill to my staff from day one, and even to the members, because we all want to keep this place clean.”

In addition to cleaning, employees at Arri taped off every other cardio machine to socially distance exercisers. Its employees will wear facemasks and its members will be met at a door with a thermometer and a series of medical questions. Members have to wear gloves while they exercise. Masks for members will be strongly encouraged, Guerra said, but not required.

“It’s recommended that they wear a mask, but it’s not one of those things that’s enforceable,” she said.

According to Guerra, Arri was not eligible for funding through the Paycheck Protection Program and closing forced several of her employees to go on unemployment.

“Right away we froze all of the memberships, so that nobody was being charged while they weren’t here. I had to lay off my staff, and that was hard, because some of this crew has been with me since we opened,” she said. “It was scary. You never dream about your business shutting down. At the time, they said it was just going to be till April 3 or something like that, but April 3 came and went and it just kept getting extended and extended.”

Despite the financial turmoil, Arri only had two membership cancelations and Guerra expects the business to make it through the pandemic relatively unscathed.

“Yeah, we’re going to take a hit in the short term, but in the long term we’ll make it up,” she said.

Guerra even said there could be a financial upside to the pandemic for her small, upscale gym. She’s been fielding calls from clients of larger gyms who say they’re thinking about switching to Arri.

“They’re leery about going back there because they know there’s more people, it’s not as clean, there’s more chance of them coming into contact with someone, so they’re wanting to come here,” she said. “We’re going to get some new members out of it, and I’m sure that some of my members will drop off as well.”

Although Arri can unfreeze memberships and begin taking in revenue again Monday, some of those memberships might stay frozen for the immediate future. Guerra says she fielded dozens of emails and texts through the pandemic from people practically begging to get back in the gym.

Times are tough for everyone, Guerra says, and at least for now, some of her members might get a free ride. 

“I’ll just keep their membership on freeze until they get back on their feet; I’ll still allow them to workout, but it’s a case by case thing,” she said. ”I feel bad. It’s not their fault that this happened…it’s a time for compassion. And I want them to stay with me, I don’t want them to leave.”