Ontario Boutique Fitness Studios Unfairly Targeted by Government Shutdowns

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The Save Health & Wellness Coalition and Ontario Independent Fitness Studios Association (OIFSA) demand that the Ontario Government and Premier Ford treat boutique fitness studios in the Toronto, Ottawa, Peel and York regions fairly. Our coalition of studios represents more than 300 independent fitness studios that provide physical and mental health services to communities across Ontario. The entire passion and purpose of our small businesses is to keep our communities healthy and improve their wellbeing. We are calling on the government to work with us to reopen boutique fitness studios without delay. 

The recent, arbitrary decision to place modified Stage 2 restrictions on all fitness facilities is not one that is based on data. While dance studios have been permitted to reopen in these areas, it begs the question what difference does the government attribute between dance and boutique fitness studios. It gives the impression that the government is picking winners and losers, and we ask the government to be transparent and to stop portraying our small businesses as high-risk establishments.

Boutique fitness studios are different from traditional, open access gyms as we only offer classes or organized activities, and a trainer is present with each person or group at all times; we do not have any open-format weight or equipment areas in our facilities.

Essentially, boutique fitness studios offer the same services as dance studios: aerobic exercises performed indoors. Like dance studios, boutique fitness studios are able to operate safely with the same health and safety protocols including physical distancing, requiring that all members pre-register for classes, and limiting classes to a maximum of 10 people. 

Premier Ford’s argument for reopening dance studios relies on the fact that dance studios use a cohort-model. On that note, boutique fitness studios are membership-based, utilize booking systems, and generally have the same people attending the same class/organized activity each day, very much acting like a cohort.

As key members of the health and wellness industry, our boutique fitness studios provide an invaluable service to the province by maintaining and enhancing the physical and mental wellness of our communities. Since the onset of COVID, research has shown a rise in mental illnesses among Canadians. 1 in 20 Canadians (6%) had recently experienced thoughts or feelings of suicide as a result of the pandemic, and 50% of Canadians reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began. Exercise has been proven to have a positive impact on both physical and mental health. The closure of boutique fitness studios coupled with the stresses of a second wave will undoubtedly create a devastating ripple effect across the province, likely leading to increased rates of depression and suicide.

Our industry continues to face severe financial hardships only compounded by these shutdowns. We are largely unable to take advantage of most government efforts to reduce burden on small businesses and we don’t have the ability to benefit from operational exceptions like alcohol delivery or take-out, to keep us afloat. On average, OIFSA studios have less than 10 weeks of financial runway before they will be forced into closure. We’re not asking for special treatment from the government, we’re simply asking for equal treatment.

We implore the government to work with our sector and our small-business owners to better protect Ontarians and re-open this essential service at this critical moment.