While many gyms have gone above and beyond public safety measures during the pandemic, gyms were still forced to shut down in the week proceeding Christmas to help curb the spread of Omicron as cases exploded across the province.
In Golden, Golden’s Gym owner Jamie Paquette is speaking out over what she believes is an unjust shutdown, saying that gym owners were given no notice and no time to prepare as their livelihood for the second time since the pandemic began, as well as little to no financial support from the provincial government to help them through the shutdown.
“I was blindsided by the recent announcement, I found out about it at the same time everyone else did,” said Paquette.
“I think there is an extensive number of options that they had available before a full shutdown that could have been implemented, as we’ve seen them do in the past, it’s incredibly frustrating.”
Paquette says that she always maintained a high degree of cleanliness in her gym throughout the pandemic, often on her own dime, to ensure the safety of her customers. Her gym was even nominated for a Community Excellence Award last year for its response to the pandemic.
“I’m just trying to do what’s right for my community, it feels like I’ve done everything I can, I’ve done everything right, gone above and beyond, and I’m still being punished.”
The most recent shut down has been a punch to the gut, with the holiday season and New Year’s being a time that she, along with many other gym owners, were relying on to help make up lost profits from the previous year and the increased costs of operation during COVID.
Now, she says she faces mounting bills, with no way of paying them during the shutdown.
While the government is offering a grant, Paquette says that the grant would barely cover her hydro expenses. The highest amount offered is $10,000, which is only available for gyms with 100 employees or more. Golden’s Gym would qualify for a $1,000 subsidy.
To boot, as of Jan. 10, grant applications hadn’t even opened yet, with gyms set to open their doors on Jan. 19 under the current orders and there currently isn’t any funds to help.
When they reopen, she says they’re facing a 75 per cent loss between gym expenses and lost income.
She finds the shutdown especially unjust when compared to the fact that other facilities, such as arenas, are allowed to stay open, despite evidence of transmission in those facilities.
“I feel a justified outrage at the hypocrisy of these measures, the fact that 9,500 people are allowed into Rogers Arena for a Canucks game to scream and shout and nurse a beer for two hours to not wear a mask, but I can’t have 10 people spread out over two floors,” said Paquette.
Paquette says that while she doesn’t wish for any sporting environments to get shut down, she does believe that shutting down gyms that can positively impact physical and mental health during what is often a stressful time of year for many when there isn’t a COVID surge happening seems counter-intuitive.
“I’m grateful people still have their outlets for physical activity, but then why not me? I’m not sure I could have done more for this community to keep them safe,” said Paquette.
“I don’t want any local businesses to go through what I am, but I do believe there is an extreme unfairness coming at my own expense.”
While many gym owners have been outspoken against the recent orders and have even defied them by re-opening, Paquette says that’s just not feasible for a small gym like hers and that it’s splintered gyms that are trying to unite during this difficult time.
She says that she’s received more than 3,500 messages since the lockdown and that while most of those messages have been supportive, some have been aggressive in demanding that she re-open Golden’s Gym in defiance of the restrictions.
While she understands the motivation behind that, it’s taken a toll on her mental wellbeing, and that she can’t even alleviate that burden by working out at the gym.
Behind the scenes, Paquette says she’s doing advocacy work, which will hopefully set a precedent not just for B.C., but for Canada, should something like this happen again.
For those looking to help support Golden’s Gym during the shutdown, they can do so by buying merchandise or home workout gear. There is also a GoFundMe set up for donations to help pay the bills for the gym that’s halfway to its goal, as well as a petition as a part of Paquette’s advocacy.
“It’s clear that the government has failed me as a small business owner, but my community has not, they’ve stepped in to support us,” said Paquette. “We’re doing our best for the benefit of our community to make sure we have a space to come back to when we can re-open again.”