Businesses on the brink
Better Life Fitness in Rossland is one of many businesses that have suffered dramatic losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Will these businesses survive to serve residents once the pandemic has passed – however long that may take? And what can residents do to help ensure their survival – at least, those residents who haven’t suffered disastrous losses of income themselves?
Lori Craig and her husband Bill started Better Life Fitness sixteen years ago, renovating the old Nelson and District Credit Union building and providing a space and the equipment for people to do their walking or running on treadmills, or to use the lower-impact elliptical trainers, and to develop strength using a variety of other machines, and weights. People recovering from injuries and surgeries and dealing with disabilities have all benefited from the gym and Lori’s expertise. This reporter has been a member off and on for years, and I’ve found it to be the cleanest and most welcoming gym I’ve ever visited. Lori’s business has also donated to sports teams and community events.
Then came COVID. On March 18, Lori locked the gym doors and walked home, marking her route with tears.
As Lori says, “Bills don’t stop coming just because of COVID.” Money keeps going out for the mortgage, and utilities, and taxes. When the gym re-opened in June, there were also wages, and cleaning expenses – three times as high as pre-pandemic. “Summer is never a busy season at the gym,” Lori acknowledged. But with the pandemic, many people are staying away from indoor spaces, and more money has been going out than coming in.
Normally, November is a good month at the gym, with weather that makes indoor exercise more appealing than going out in rain and slush and the minimal amounts of snow in the hills. This year, Lori reports, “We’re down 70% from last year, and December has been disastrous – down 80%.”
“Without the government assistance, we would have gone under nine months ago,” Lori declared. “We’ve applied for every form of assistance available, and we’re still just hanging on by a thread.”
Lori understands that many people are uncomfortable with spending time in indoor spaces, but she emphasizes all the measures she has taken at the gym to make it as safe as possible. “We were masked three weeks before masks were mandatory. Everyone must be masked in the building, and we only allow fifteen people in the building at any time. We’re very rigorous about sanitizing. Everyone gets their own personal cloth, and there’s extra hand sanitizer, paper towels and soap.”
Residents who want to ensure that the business survives can help by buying a membership or a ten-visit pass, and if anyone is uncomfortable with visiting the gym at this time, Lori assures us that the membership or pass doesn’t start running until the first visit.
I posed this question: “If I buy a one-year membership, and I don’t want to visit the gym until, say, August, my one-year membership wouldn’t start counting down until my visit in August?” Lori assured me that my membership would be good for one year following that first visit – whenever the first visit might be. I know, since I’m elderly and plan to continue serious COVID-avoidance, my first visit would not be for quite some as-yet-undetermined time; since I really want the gym to be there when the time comes, I’ll dig out my credit card now.
More government assistance for businesses is on the way, in the form of “Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant.” But it’s unlikely that grants alone can provide enough help for some businesses that are most heavily impacted by the pandemic.
“Support Local BC” is a credit-union-sponsored initiative providing an avenue for people to support their local businesses and help them survive until this is over. Here’s the link for the West Kootenay section – try it out and see the full list of businesses offering gift cards. Businesses in Rossland taking part in this so far include Better Life Fitness, the Alpine Grind, Bear Country Kitchen, Gabriella’s, Happy Hills Farm, Gold Rush bookstore, and Sarah Elizabeth Fibreworks.
Meanwhile, Lori says that people can make a big difference by buying gym passes and/or memberships online at http://betterlifefitness.net/
Helping our community by helping local businesses survive is one of those activities that feel good, too. So, if you can, splash out a bit now and enjoy that good feeling right away, and enjoy the product later.