When Saint Mary’s Fitness Center shut down permanently in February after 18 years in business, patrons who suddenly had to relocate to other gyms discovered that the fitness-center landscape has changed.
Scott and Monique Sady, who were members at the hospital-associated gym for more than a decade, said the Saint Mary’s Fitness Center was an integral part of their lives. They were saddened to receive an email on Feb. 1 announcing the closure “after exhausting all options to remain operable.” The gym allowed patrons to suspend their memberships for more than a year during the COVID-19 pandemic. It reportedly was slow to rebuild memberships when the contagion ended, and suffered from staffing problems.
Nevada Prime Healthcare, Saint Mary’s owner, didn’t return the RN&R’s messages asking for further comment. Scott and Monique Sady said the gym appeared to be winning back its customers, so the closure came as a shock—and sent the couple on a hunt for a replacement.
“Saint Mary’s had all the features we liked, was nice and clean, had steam rooms, a sauna, massages and group classes,” Scott Sady said.
They began looking for other fitness centers that had similar amenities and found a new home at Sports West in Reno. “It’s more of a drive, and it’s not the same, but it has a lot of amenities we are looking for,” he said.
The pandemic closures shut down some local gyms permanently and changed the way many folks approach their fitness routines. COVID-19’s most devastating effects fell upon people with obesity and pre-existing health problems—underlining doctors’ long-standing advice that people should stay active to maintain their health. For some, that meant enrolling in gyms or, instead, getting serious about exercising at home.
“(Our gym) is definitely less busy than we were before COVID, but this year, I already feel it’s going to change,” said Mena Spodobalski, owner of Evoke Fitness, 9744 S. Virginia St. “We are seeing more people, new people, (with) better retention across the board.”
Evoke Fitness is not an average gym; services are limited to diverse group-fitness classes or personalized training that can be designed for one to three participants. There is something special about group classes with lots of like-minded individuals committed to improving their health, Spodobalski said.
“It’s all about accountability,” she said. “People push themselves; they are more motivated.”
The pandemic affected some people’s motivations to join a fitness center, Spodobalski said. Traditionally, weight loss and physical appearance were the main reasons people cited for joining gyms, she noted, but now people prioritize overall well-being and mental health.
Derek Wellock, owner of Double Edge Fitness, 1065 S Virginia St., agreed that the industry and its clientele have gone through an evolution since the pandemic. Many people, he said, now prefer a more individually tailored fitness experience and want a facility that will invest the time and effort into catering to patrons’ needs. After the isolation caused by COVID-19, many people yearned to return to the person-to-person interaction at fitness centers. Working out alongside experienced instructors is the ultimate motivator to push through an intense workout, he said.
“People need, like and enjoy human interaction,” Wellock said. “It’s a positive and uplifting environment.”
Still, some of the folks who got used to exercising at home haven’t returned to gyms. When “nonessential” businesses, including fitness centers, were forced to shutter for months beginning in March 2020, those who could afford the costs purchased home exercise equipment.
Sales of the Peloton exercise bike, for example, surged 172% in 2021, according to CNN Business, despite its hefty price tag ($1,500-plus). More than 1 million people subscribed to the Peloton app during the early stages of the pandemic. That subscription, at $12.99 per month, is a tiny fraction of a gym membership. The app allows users access to a large library of classes taught by a plethora of instructors. The classes include strength training, Pilates, running, cycling, stretching and even boxing. Although Peloton sales have fallen since the end of the pandemic, the company still boasts 2.33 million fitness subscriptions and an annual retention rate of more than 92%, according to Backlino.
Other fitness-conscious people, however, prefer the brick-and-mortar gym experience to exercising at home.
Linda Lambert of Reno, who for eight years had been a dedicated participant in Saint Mary’s Fitness’ cancer-wellness program, said the gym’s closure was devastating to members. The wellness program, which required a doctor’s referral, featured customized classes led by trainers with specialized knowledge of cancer.
“(The gym closure) really hit me,” she said. “Saint Mary’s was a place where everyone knew your name and had a smile on their face.”
For Lambert, the fitness center also was a hub for fostering community relationships in Reno.
The Parkway Athletic Club, at 9400 Double Diamond Parkway, helped some of Saint Mary’s patrons fill the void left by its closure. Jennifer Deroche, Parkway’s general manager, said that the facility has accommodated many of those displaced by the closure of Saint Mary’s.
“We are so happy to give everyone at Saint Mary’s a new home,” she said. “Some of those members have been going to Saint Mary’s for almost 20 years; to them, it’s like losing a family member. We want to be their life raft during this transition.”
Parkway, she said, offers former Saint Mary’s clients a discounted rate and waives their enrollment fees.
The gym offers many of the same features that made Saint Mary’s popular, including group fitness classes in cycling, yoga, Pilates and weightlifting. It also has a steam room, sauna, massage studio and a pool. Most other gyms in Reno don’t have a pool or an aquatics department with coaches and classes, so the loss of Saint Mary’s pool was a hardship for many of its former patrons.
“We are way busier since the pandemic; we have doubled our memberships,” Deroche said. “People are in power now and want control of their health. We offer something for everybody.”
Private gym memberships typically cost between $20 to $60 a month or more, and some have a one-time enrollment fee. The rates can strain some family budgets, but community fitness centers provide less-expensive options.
The city of Reno has community-recreation centers which offer a diverse range of fitness, sports and dance classes as well as exercise machines, basketball courts and well-equipped weight rooms; some have lap pools. A pass good for all the city’s fitness centers and pools costs $360 per year for adults age 18 to 59; $240 for teens age 14 to 17; and $150 per year for seniors and children. Per-visit and quarterly passes also are available.
The Evelyn Mount Northeast Community Center, 1301 Valley Road, serves as the primary hub for the city’s programs. Further information is available at www.reno.gov.
The city has a scholarship program to provide fee assistance for its recreation centers and programs. Programs are available to adults of all ages and include classes in Zumba, yoga, tai chi and other martial arts, water fitness and dance.