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Boutique Fitness Studios Put the Pressure on NYC to Reopen

Boutique gyms and group fitness facilities partnered up to pressure Mayor Bill de Blasio to permit the restart of group fitness in New York City.
The newly-formed Boutique Fitness Alliance partnered up with the New York Fitness Coalition, which claims as members about 2,500 gyms and fitness studios in the state, to file a lawsuit against the mayor and Department of Health, according to CNN. They allege the city has no proof fitness classes are more likely to spread coronavirus than typical gyms.
"Fitness classes are usually 10 people per class and are built for social distancing, as each member has their own equipment during the workout," the complaint reads. "If tanning salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, schools, indoor gymnastics, casinos, mass transit, piercing stations and spas are allowed to open, fit, yoga, pilates, barre and other fitness boutique studios should also be allowed to open."
Amanda Freeman, CEO and founder of SLT — short for Strengthen Lengthen Tone — which is part of the Boutique Fitness Alliance, said it was a "punch in the gut" when she found out group fitness classes couldn't resume in New York City.
"It's a bit of what I like to say 'a head-scratcher' of why gyms can open and boutique fitness can't. It's very frustrating," Freeman said. "We can be controlled, safe, and very careful, even more so than a gym."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo permitted gyms across the state of New York to reopen as early as Aug. 24. Gyms in New York City opened Sept. 2, but localities were permitted to make their own decisions on group fitness, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has not yet allowed it.
The Boutique Fitness Alliance formed after group fitness facilities realized they would be left out of the city's gym reopening plan. It includes companies like SoulCycle, FlyWheel, Equinox, Barry's Bootcamp, Fhitting Room, Bar Method, and Freeman's SLT, which offers a high-intensity pilates-like workout from its 26 studios. Freeman said the group is unique, considering that many of its members are competitors.
"That is one thing that we've learned coming out of this; that we need to always stay united and we need representation," Freeman said. "It's very nice to see that we are talking and saying, 'What's good for you is good for me,' rather than fighting over a specific client."
Separate from the lawsuit, Boutique Fitness Alliances has also argued that the city's differing policies for gyms and group fitness classes are sexist. According to data from the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association, multipurpose gym facilities tend to attract more men, whereas boutique fitness studios are the reverse. Women make up roughly 78 percent of members at boutique fitness studios. Plus, fitness studios are more likely to be owned and staffed by women, according to the IHRSA.
"The decisions being made by men are unintentionally harming the women," Freeman said. 
Her own company, SLT, has studios in six states on the East Coast. All 26 of them closed down in mid-March. Only the New York City studios remain completely closed.
In the open studios, like in Southampton on Long Island, SLT has taken pains to ensure staff and client safety. To prepare for reopening, staff installed vinyl dividers between the Megaformer machines they use, removed machines to ensure adequate social distancing, removed or altered high touch surfaces like cubbies and benches, installed compliant air filtration systems, and enforce mask-wearing during the workouts — much to the chagrin of students.
"I kept adjusting it and trying to fix it. The mask was the worst part," said Victoria Winner, an SLT veteran at the Southampton location who has taken more than 300 classes.
Although SLT devotees seem eager to return to the reopened studios, and Freeman said students have been receptive to new, online class offerings, she said the ongoing closures have taken a huge toll on her business.
"The pandemic has been brutal for my business," she said. "Our New York City studios do make up 80 percent of our revenue, so having those closed for six months has been devastating."
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