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Process to reopen gyms not pleasing all members

Paul Kirkley is the owner of six Fitness Depots, including the Picayune location, and said that the process to reopen them has involved a constant struggle to make all of his members happy.

Gyms were ordered to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic and only recently have been allowed to reopen.

Kirkley said some members are frustrated the gyms closed in the first place, others don’t understand why the gym has reopened with the pandemic still ongoing and still others are frustrated by the restrictions set in place for the gyms’ reopening.

Kirkley said his employees have been deep cleaning the gym on a daily basis after they close each day, while also constantly wiping down equipment during the gym’s operating hours.

The new executive order set forth by Gov. Tate Reeves allowed gyms to reopen, but with certain stipulations.

The facilities can only be open at 30 percent capacity, while also limiting the number of hours the business is open. Kirkley said he purposefully spaces out equipment in his gyms to give members ample room to exercise, so the social distancing aspect of the restrictions is easily attainable.

However, with some of his facilities having a capacity of 200, the 30 percent capacity rule means there could still be 70 people in his gym at any given moment.

“That is an insane amount of people to be in the gym right now. I think it should be capacity per square foot. You could put 20 people in the Picayune location and be safe,” Kirkley said.

After being forced to shut down during the pandemic, Kirkley made the decision to freeze all accounts so members didn’t have to pay their dues while not being able to access the gym.

Kirkley said the amount of money lost during that time is significant, so the hope is things pick back up as more restrictions are lifted.

“I think we missed out on a lot of money from people who wanted to pay and support the gym,” Kirkley said.

The reopening of gyms provided some sense of normalcy to returning members, who were used to being in the gym as often as they wanted and at whatever hours they wanted.

It’s that sense of comfort and safety gyms provide that makes Kirkley happy about reopening.

“I think being able to open and give people a sense of routine back is great. We’re a huge outlet for people,” Kirkley said.

The social aspect of the facilities is a big part of why Kirkley wanted to get people back in and working out again. Friends, church members and coworkers can run into each other at the facility and socialize, which is a service Kirkley is happy to be providing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we play a big role bringing the community back together when this is over. It’s the same thing as going out on a Friday or Saturday night eating and having drinks. I think we serve the same function as well,” Kirkley said.