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ADAPTING TO THE TIMES: Eddie McKenna and Ricky Magana, co-owners of Heyday Elite Fitness. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

Editor’s note: The reopening of Los Angeles County continues to evolve. Please check for the latest information on which types of businesses are reopening.

The first thing you notice as you walk into Heyday Elite Fitness in Downtown San Pedro are the squares. Twelve of them in two rows, each measuring six feet by eight feet, taped in yellow on black rubber outdoor exercise mats that take up more than half of their outdoor gym space. Inside each square are a bottle of disinfectant and a towel. These are personal workout spots that Heyday clients will now have the option to reserve through a new online system for each group exercise class. 

Disinfectant is the new gym accessory. Photo taken at Heyday Elite Fitness in Downtown San Pedro on June 17, 2020. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

“This was not difficult, but it was stressful,” says Eddie McKenna, co-owner of Heyday. “What’s been difficult is telling people you need to put your mask on. I have to be on people. ‘Wear your mask when you come in. Around the gym, mask goes on. If you go in your box, masks are optional because you’re outside.’ It’s really trying to make the environment feel safe when people come in.”

Reservations, disinfectants, masks, and personal space (i.e. social distancing): this is the new normal for local gyms during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Heyday reopened its doors on Monday, June 15, exactly three months since all gyms were forced to temporarily close by orders of the state due to the coronavirus pandemic. In an industry that has been hard hit by the virus (24 Hour Fitness recently filed for bankruptcy), local gyms have had a rough go of it, being forced to change their revenue models practically overnight in order to stay afloat.

“That Monday [March 16], we were like, ‘What do we do?’” recalls Ricky Magana, Heyday co-owner (and San Pedro Today columnist). “We decided [right away] to go ‘live’ [online] and figure the rest out [later]. We converted all our workouts to bodyweight at-home specific ones. [It was] very much a ‘building the parachute on the way down’ kind of thing.”

In a bid to stay relevant during the quarantine, Heyday immediately began setting up free remote home workout sessions via Facebook Live. The pivot proved to be effective with their free online classes attracting more than a dozen people per session. The free workouts lasted eight weeks and were followed by a paid version via the popular private video conferencing software, Zoom. 

“Our whole philosophy through this entire thing has been, how do we get ahead of it?” says Magana. “I think we were good at the technology stuff, but I think Eddie and I both had preconceptions about what people would be willing to do. But given the fact that people no longer had a choice… it forced us to create this [at-home] program, but there was no roadmap to do it.”

A block away, the staff at All Fit are dealing with a different challenge: trying to maximize indoor floor space to accommodate as many clients as possible. Unlike Heyday, which has a significant outdoor footprint, All Fit is an indoor gym filled with boxing bags, free weights, and machines. In order to adhere to the new safety protocols, the gym has to remove nearly fifty percent of its equipment in order to create the proper social distancing space required to open. 

Ernie Avina, co-owner of All Fit. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

“We’re both a kickboxing and a circuit training gym,” explains Ernie Avina, co-owner of All Fit. “So, on the kickboxing side, we had 33 bags; now we’re down to about 15. In the circuit training area, we’re going to have to add equipment and expand the floor space. We need to use every inch to be able to get about 15 people in, instead of [our normal] 25. So that’s a huge impact [financially].”

According to the new state guidelines, gyms and fitness centers are being asked to follow a set of safety protocols that include: 1.) thoroughly cleaning high traffic areas, like lobbies and locker rooms; 2.) requiring patrons to disinfect their equipment, mats, and machines before and after use; 3.) providing “ready to clean” tags for members to place on equipment after use, to ensure it’s disinfected by staff; 4.) encouraging patrons to bring their own towels and mats and discouraging facility-provided supplies; 5.) avoiding shaking hands and other physical contacts; 6.) and requiring facilities with swimming pools to ensure that they are properly disinfected for patron use. Also, saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs are to remain closed for the time being.

In addition to the new guidelines, gyms are also being asked to use online reservation systems to control capacity. One can imagine the level of frustration gym owners have suffered having to change business models a second time after just getting used to providing remote classes, but as McKenna accurately points out, “You need to adapt or die.”

As local gyms begin to reopen across town, the owners of Heyday and All Fit are quick to acknowledge that they would not have been able to survive the quarantine if it weren’t for the large community of loyal members each gym has cultivated with their respective clienteles. 

“If we hadn’t built the culture we have in our gym, we wouldn’t be opening our doors again,” says McKenna. “We would be nowhere without our community.”

According to both McKenna and Avina, many of their patrons continued paying their monthly membership dues during the quarantine closure, a move both gyms expressed gratitude about.

“I think we’re blessed being in San Pedro and having a strong sense of community,” says Avina. “If it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t be reopening. I think we have a key service to provide, and I think most people are grateful that we’re able to open up again. Just knowing that they’re committed to us, it makes you fight even harder.” spt

Joshua Stecker

Joshua Stecker is the publisher and editor-in-chief of San Pedro Today.