June 20, 2021


Keep Fit & Healthy

For Syracuse gym and salon owners in orange zone, reopening is vindication, salvation

5 min read

Syracuse, N.Y. — Randy Sabourin, like so many other gym owners, is happy that his downtown Syracuse gym will be allowed to reopen after being shuttered for nearly three weeks because it is in a coronavirus orange zone.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that gyms, salons, barber shops and other personal care businesses inside the state’s orange zones would be allowed to reopen. Data Cuomo shared Friday showed that only 0.06% of new cases of Covid-19 in New York from September to November were tied to gyms and 0.14% were tied to hair salons and personal care — among the lowest of the identified sources of potential spread of the virus.

Sabourin owns Metro Fitness, which he started 25 years ago and now has locations in downtown Syracuse and Fayetteville.

The Fayetteville location was allowed to remain open because it was not in the orange zone, so Sabourin said he was able to move some clients from downtown to Fayetteville. He still lost some business and had to cut back on staff, he said.

“We should’ve been part of the solution,” he said. “I don’t think we were ever part of the problem.”

Helen Green owns Powerhouse Gym at 210 W. Division St. in Syracuse’s Franklin Square neighborhood.

It’s her only location, so she was forced to close when the area became part of an orange zone and said it was difficult to see gyms only a few miles down the road stay open while hers was dark and empty.

Since gyms were first allowed to reopen on Aug. 24 after the initial shutdown in March that lasted more than six months, Green has had more than 7,700 check-ins at her gym and never had a client test positive for Covid-19 or even show symptoms of the virus, she said.

Green said she lives with her elderly father, so she has been strict with mask wearing, sanitation and other precautions.

To reopen in an organge zone, gyms will be required to test staff for the virus weekly and are limited to 25% capacity. Green said for her the capacity limit, unfortunately, will not be a problem. She had around 550 members this time last year. Now, she’s down to under 200.

“I’ve had a lot of people cancel their memberships because they’re afraid of walking through that door,” she said. She’s lost several members to other gyms outside the orange zone that remained open, she said.

Sabourin said the bulk of his business at Metro Fitness comes from personal training. This time last year, the downtown gym did around 220 personal training sessions a week. Before the orange zone took effect, the gym had nearly returned to those levels, a success Sabourin credited to the relationships developed between the personal trainers and clients.

“Now we have to start all over again,” he said.

Trisha McDermott, salon manager at The Concept @ 235 near Hanover Square, agreed that businesses like gyms and salons were unfairly grouped together and stigmatized as dangerous.

The salon is small — just one hair stylist and one nail technician. Clients for nails enter through a backdoor on Erie Boulevard East, while hair clients enter through the front on East Water Street to ensure as little contact as possible.

Most of the time, the salon has a maximum of only four people inside at any one time.

“It should’ve been handled differently,” McDermott said. “It should’ve been on more of a case-by-case basis.”

Hair salons

Element on Water has installed partitions between hair-washing stations in its salon in Syracuse, N.Y.Provided by Jacquie Grabowski

Jaqueline Grabowski owns Element on Water, near Clinton Square and knows exactly how long she had to close her salon.

“I’m glad they reconsidered, but it was 18 days,” she said Saturday afternoon on a break between appointments. She said her customers were thrilled that they could come back.

Grabowski said the first shutdown in the spring and summer was understandable because all salons were in the same boat. But this time, customers could go to an open salon only minutes away.

She said she sent at least five to 10 customers a day to different salons outside the orange zone during the most recent shutdown.

“I was feeling defeated,” Grabowski said.

She said she understands the pressure and responsibility that government officials face, but said the decision to close salons was unfair, impulsive and not based on data.

“This was an erratic decision and not thought out,” she said.

Grabowski, who said her strict sanitation protocols had her feeling more like a “hair doctor,” said the back and forth and uncertainty of the businesses wears on her.

“There’s not a lot of industries where you go to work and you’re unsure if you’ll be able to go to work tomorrow,” she said.

Like Element on Water, The Concept @ 235 was able to stay open offering curbside retail sales of hair color and other products, but unable to offer services, business has been a small fraction of what it was before.

After the news broke Friday, McDermott got a deluge of phone calls and texts from customers asking for appointments. She told them to give the salon a few days to figure out what it all means.

She expects the salon to reopen Monday.

McDermott said that comparatively, the salon has been lucky. Open downtown for about 25 years, the salon has a loyal customer base — some of whom book appointments ahead for an entire year.

Still, McDermott knows the salon lost customers due to the orange zone lockdown, as well as fewer people traveling downtown for work and instead working from home and going to a salon closer to home.

McDermott said it’s been tough dealing with the constant uncertainty.

“We’re lucky we survived because for these small businesses, it has been a struggle,” she said.

Sabourin said the repeated opening and closing of gyms has scared people into thinking that going to the gym is not safe.

“It’s hard to earn back the trust of our members,” he said.

While a gym is often associated with physical health, both Sabourin and Green said the mental health benefits and stress relief of exercise can be just as important.

“The gym is more than just physical,” Green said.

Sabourin said the downtown Metro Fitness gym, located at 205 S. Salina St., is on track to reopen Monday.

Green too is ready to reopen—once she figures out all the details in the governor’s new order.

Contact Jacob Pucci at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @JacobPucci.

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