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Kevin McHugh, COO of the Atlantic Clubs and Milagro Spas of Red Bank and Manasquan.

Health and fitness clubs need consistent COVID-19 operating rules now and a clear state plan for fully reopening in the future if these businesses are going to survive, says Kevin McHugh, chief operating officer of the Atlantic Clubs and Milagro Spas located in Red Bank and Manasquan.

McHugh, who also represents all health and fitness clubs in the state as one of the founding members of the New Jersey Fitness Alliance, spoke of the industry’s struggles during a recent New Jersey Business Coalition online town hall.

Even though health clubs have not been linked to any COVID-19 outbreaks, inconsistent state rules and occupancy restrictions are preventing clients from returning and making it difficult for these businesses to meet their operating expenses or turn a profit, McHugh said.

“I can have a yoga class that has 50% occupancy, but my group exercise class is 12.5% occupancy,” McHugh said. “So, am I going to be able to afford for long a $50 instructor with eight people in a class? No – but if you don’t have those classes, you’re not relevant and you can’t get people back.”

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Customers are reluctant to return if they are not getting access to the same services and facility amenities that they enjoyed in the past. For example, clients want to be able to use locker rooms, but state rules require locker rooms to be closed unless the facility also has a pool, McHugh said.

Without a clear plan from the state providing a timetable for resuming normal operations, health and fitness clubs are unable to plan programming or invest in new equipment, McHugh said.

“We’re ready to move forward, and we’re held back. We need to plan,” McHugh said. “I can’t be watching every press release, every press conference wondering if it is going to impact my business…”

McHugh said the industry was devastated by state mandated closures that dragged on for months in the beginning of the pandemic, and then the operating restrictions that continue to this day even as vaccinations are becoming more readily available.

“We’ve lost approximately 19% of our health clubs, studios and fitness centers in the State of New Jersey, which is about 10,000 employees,” McHugh said. “The way things are looking now we’re probably going to lose another 5% – another 5,000 employees.”

McHugh said health and fitness clubs are currently following enhanced sanitation procedures that make them a safer environment than they were before the coronavirus outbreak a year ago.

“We are doing our jobs,” McHugh said. “Let us get back to business and get our employees back.”

The New Jersey Business Coalition’s March 18 online town hall included 13 speakers and was attended by approximately 100 people, including state legislators.