The largest fitness centers in the Tri-Cities are seeing mixed results on membership numbers since getting the green light to reopen after initial Covid-related shutdowns.
At a time of year when gyms tend to see a boom of interest from those with a “new year, new me” mentality, CBRC Health & Wellness Clinic in Richland is still trying to rebuild its membership, while The Pacific Clinic in Kennewick said its membership has grown since reopening and rebranding.
It’s unclear how the rapid spread of the omicron variant of Covid-19 will affect gyms in the coming weeks but improved safety measures remain a priority.
Kennewick’s Tri-City Court Club reopened as The Pacific Clinic after a five-month shutdown beginning in mid-March 2020.
The fitness center on North Grant Street, near Edison Street and Canal Drive, bills itself as a functional health clinic, with an emphasis on health services, including regenerative treatment.
“We focus on the entire process of someone’s health,” said Shaelah Harmon, general manager of The Pacific Clinic and president of its new ownership group, CareFromAnywhere. The clinic intends to offer pharmacy and primary care services in coming months.
Initially seen as poor timing, The Pacific Clinic had opened its doors on March 1, 2020, on the same site as the court club, which was owned for decades by Carl and Lynda Cadwell.
The two operated concurrently for a short while before The Pacific Clinic took over.
Now, ownership is transitioning to a nonprofit, which will offer scholarships to cover care for those in need.
CareFromAnywhere is the current managing entity of The Pacific Clinic, with a full switchover likely in the first quarter of this year. The nonprofit was founded by Stephen White, also a coach at the Kennewick fitness center.
Since reopening, Harmon said the reboot has been effective.
“We have done really well. Our membership has continued to increase, and we’ve continued to bring on new patients.”
The Pacific Clinic offers many of the same services as the court club did, but with a different intention. “The focus has changed, not so much the services. People often use tennis for the social aspect, but we can also share the benefits of balance and working on awareness of the periphery while playing,” she said.
The Pacific Clinic employs about 150 people at a minimum, with the payroll swelling to 200 during the summer season when there are more outdoor activities and youth programs.
At the height of the initial shutdown in 2020, Harmon said no one was working for about two months. During the length of the closure, some employees had taken vacation time, while the Paycheck Protection Program also helped cover expenses.
Shaving off a few hours from the operating schedule once offered by the court club, Pacific Clinic is open weekdays from 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. with group fitness classes, aquatics and racquet sports. It opens a little later on weekends and closes at 8 p.m.
Harmon is proud of the sanitization routine to fight Covid-19 and other communicable illnesses, saying the center goes “above and beyond” what’s necessary to prevent the spread of illness.
“Our employees have stepped up and really tried to follow the parameters laid out by the state, and our member support has been great,” she said.
CBRC’s general manager sums up its current status easily: “We need more help, that’s for sure.”
Namely, with the aquatic staff, which includes certified lifeguards and swim instructors.
“With the restrictions as they were, we lost a lot of staff who couldn’t work and had to find something else. Then we couldn’t train anybody, and those who needed their certifications renewed, opted to go somewhere else,” said Willis, who started at CBRC as a lifeguard in 1994 and has been with the club ever since.
Willis said it hasn’t been as simple as hiring someone off the street to fill the open roles.
“In the same way a football team has a mix of ages and experience, we kind of play the same game. We have to fill in with freshmen as our seniors graduate, and we couldn’t train anybody as people left, so it’s a really big gap that we’re trying to overcome.”
Usually, CBRC operates with 50 to 60 aquatic staff during the summer, and most recently ran its programs with 35 to 40 employees at its indoor and outdoor location on Terminal Drive in Richland, visible from the bypass highway.
“We were really running on the ragged edge of not having enough people,” he said.
Staffing is down and so is its membership base – off 30%, according to Willis.
CBRC reduced its operating hours, only partially due to demand.
“Based on the number of members we have now, we would have reduced the hours anyway,” he said. Open most weekdays from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., and weekends 7 a.m. to 8. p.m., CBRC is down 10 operating hours from what it used to offer weekly.
A big portion of the previous demand once came from Hanford workers who visited the gym on their way to or from work, who now may strictly telework.
Willis also attributed the decrease to a mix of reasons, including those who no longer feel it’s safe to work out indoors, those who bought home fitness equipment, those who can no longer afford a gym contract, and those who just have a new routine that no longer includes CBRC.
In his lengthy tenure at the club, Willis was used to employee totals as high as 225 in the summer, with 75 full-time employees. Those counts have fallen to 165 total, and 45 FTEs. At its lowest point during the 2020 closure, just four employees were on staff, including Willis, and three other managers covering maintenance, accounting and administration.
Since reopening, a lack of demand has dropped the number of group fitness classes offered by about 40%.
“The only thing really near the level that it once was is anything kid-related,” Willis said. “Swimming lessons have rebounded – but it’s a catch-22 because we need more staff, and we can’t meet the demand.”
Bookings for birthday parties are also starting to come back, an option offered to both members and non-members. The club also offers tennis lessons, karate and personal training.
CBRC also has stepped up efforts to thwart the spread of coronavirus, installing new HVAC units as a safety improvement.
“They are actively killing the virus versus just filtering it out,” and said his staff take many precautions to keep members safe, including wearing masks and offering them at the entrance to encourage use. “At some point the conversation needs to shift from preventing Covid to reducing bad outcomes from any of these things,” Willis said. “Many are struggling with mental health or weight gain. People need to move, and we’ve got a place they can do it.”
Both The Pacific Clinic and CBRC Health & Wellness Clinic are offering reduced rates in joining fees during January as a promotion for new members who sign a one-year contract.
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