Health middle bulking up memberships after pandemic decline

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – When COVID-19 first hit the country in March 2020, fitness clubs were a breeze when it came time to shut down businesses. All that puffing and puffing has spit countless virus droplets into the air.

The YMCA on Hillcrest Drive in Charleston closed for a while in 2020 and then only opened its fitness area at times. Regulators closed changing rooms. Everyone who trained had to be masked. The changing rooms were eventually reopened, but face masks were still required.

As 2021 went on and vaccines became available, most gyms stayed open, but membership had taken a heavy blow.

By November 2020, the membership of the YMCA had dropped to 4,677, roughly half the pre-COVID level. The recovery was on the way, however – in November 2021 the numbers rose again to 5,615, an increase of 20%.

“We have had solid membership growth over the past 12 months,” said YMCA President Sarah Bolyard. “It was a breath of fresh air. There are signs that things are returning to normal. “

Bolyard made their comments with one caveat – no one knows what new strains or variants are on the way. It also points to a further positive development. Not all of the membership growth is due to the return of old members. Some are new and lost connection to their old gyms during the COVID-19 shutdown.

In the evening the crowds in Y are noticeably larger, and visitors in the early morning report lively activity. Classes are well attended, the facility’s swimming pool is full of lap enthusiasts and tennis players are banging on the ball again.

There are currently no recreational leagues for children or adults, but a more stable environment could see their return.

Will Santen, 19, is studying at Auburn University in Alabama. His vaccination status gives him security.

“I got my vaccination and booster,” said Santen. “I feel safe and I feel like I protect others by getting vaccinated.”

At Nautilus in Kanawha City, Ed Stike, 60, never stopped exercising. He noticed the older crowd fell silent for a while in the early afternoon.

“But I never noticed a big drop in the younger ones or those who train in the evening,” said Stike.

Two attempts to contact Nautilus owner Bob White were unsuccessful.

Anytime Fitness in Kanawha Mall belongs to the investor group Bandon Fitness, but only since the beginning of this year. Bandon oversees gyms in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. District manager Ashley Althouse said the Charleston location was one of the largest of the chain’s 26 locations, despite being unable to provide membership numbers.

“We are targeting around 50 new members each month,” said Althouse. “We hit it every time. We’re really rebuilding our membership base now. “

She said Charleston represents one of the larger markets in the chain that usually operates in smaller communities.

Althouse said conversations with other gym owners and companies point to the same positive trends in membership numbers.

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