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Possible gym stimulus encourages Dane County fitness center owners

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Proposed legislation to pump as much as $30 billion into the fitness industry is giving Madison gym owners hope of sustaining operations with continued capacity limits.

"It would be a huge help," says CrossFit Recursive Fitness & Nutrition Owner Nikole Gessler.

Gessler says the pandemic has forced her to lay off two-thirds of her coaching staff with the number of gym memberships down by fifty percent.

The Gym Mitigation and Survival Act being considered in Congress would provide grants of up to forty-five percent of a fitness facility's 2019 revenue.

Peter Kraus of Middleton's Peter Kraus Fitness opened his center just ten months before the pandemic hit and says any stimulus money would address a need he's had to completely neglect.  "Advertising," Kraus says.

Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) introduced the legislation to provide relief to the gym industry, which has been struggling throughout the coronavirus pandemic due to lockdowns and the lack of clients. 

The proposal would award grants to gyms and fitness studios that can be used to cover payroll costs, rent, utilities, mortgages and worker protection expenses like personal protective equipment, among other costs. 

Eligible businesses must be fitness facilities that provide instruction of physical exercise and that offer space for the maintenance and development of physical fitness. Grants would be made by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

The Community Gyms Coalition, which represents 15,000 gyms struggling through the pandemic, endorsed the legislation. The coalition includes big-name fitness studios like CrossFit, SolidCore, Pure Barre, Orange Theory and ClassPass.

Gessler says some of the industry's bigger names were mentors to her operation at the onset of the pandemic. "They were working with gyms in China and Europe that closed first," Gessler says. "They sort of knew what was coming."

Gessler says mentors helped her business cope by providing an operational road map. "You're going to pivot to online. You're going to keep having people pay their membership if they're able to. You're going to give them these at-home work outs. Zoom classes. Remote coaching," Gessler says.

Gessler hopes for the grant program's approval as a hedge against more, near-term business challenges..

"I think we will invest it back into the gym," Gessler says.

The legislation also requires the SBA to prioritize initial grants to eligible entities serving marginalized and underrepresented communities, with a focus on women, veteran-owned and minority-owned businesses.

Businesses could also apply for additional supplemental grants if they had a revenue of 33 percent or less in the last quarter, compared to its 2019 earnings, but no more than 25 percent of the initial grant.

Kraus says since his 2019 business start-up was nearly in the middle of the year, it prevented him from qualifying for initial, CARES Act funding. Kraus says his companion, national personal training and boot camp business went exclusively online and has kept his Middleton center afloat.

Kraus says his 2017 experience and high profile as a contestant-finalist on ABC's reality show The Bachelorette helped alert people to his fitness center venture. But he says the fledgling business would get a boost from any stimulus and its grant opportunity. "Oh, it would be tremendous," Kraus says. "As a new business it's even hard getting started. As an independent, I don't have a business partner. It would be nice to have that to just start putting people through the door."

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wi.) has yet to respond to a request from 27 News for comment on the merits of the gym survival act.

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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