Gym, fitness studio owners in Ferndale speak on reopening after 6-month closure

Anytime Fitness Personal Trainer Kim Kissling gets in a workout on a rowing machine. Gyms and fitness centers recently were allowed to reopen for the first time in six months after a long shutdown due to COVID-19 concerns.


FERNDALE — After many months of closures, gyms and fitness studios across Michigan were allowed to reopen Sept. 9.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Sept. 3 that she would be signing an executive order rescinding previous orders that closed gyms and pools in the state in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. After nearly six months, those businesses were allowed to reopen.

The city of Ferndale houses many different kinds of gyms and fitness centers, including Pilates Detroit. The studio, located at 3281 Hilton Road, closed March 16 and reopened Sept. 14.

At the beginning of the shutdown, owner Allison Nakisher said she stayed connected to clients and engaged with them through social media, newsletters and texts to make sure they were OK. This eventually led to her business hosting virtual Pilates classes where her members could book classes online.

While hosting these classes helped her engage with her clients during the closure, Nakisher said it “wasn’t necessarily the monetary benefit that you were looking for from it.”

As Pilates Detroit wasn’t receiving any money from grants during those first few months of the shutdown, Nakisher decided to create a new revenue stream in early June by selling Pilates straps to her customers and other businesses.

“When you come to Pilates, everybody shares the equipment,” she said. “Everything is easily sanitized by wiping things down — all the different surfaces. But there are handles that you have to put your hands on and they’re called straps. And the straps are washable, but they’re not wipeable. And so we did a pivot and decided that we would start manufacturing our own line of Pilates straps so that when we went back to being in the studio, not only would we have a revenue stream from selling them both to our clients but to studios around the country who also are filling a need to provide clients with a safe way to come back and practice Pilates.”

Nakisher said selling the Pilates straps worked out really well and created a good revenue opportunity for her studio.

“It became that chance to not only solve a problem for ourselves and our ability to safely reopen and ensure that people were going to have a nice sanitary experience, but it created a pretty significant revenue stream for the three-months-plus that we weren’t working whatsoever,” she said.

Anytime Fitness at 22861 Woodward Ave. closed down March 16 before reopening Sept. 14. Owner Joe Ferlito said it’s been a difficult time handling the gym’s closure. During the shutdown, his business hosted online classes to keep people engaged, but for the most part, everything was paused and they’ve been “sitting, stagnant, cleaning the gym, staying ready for when we get the opening order.”

Ferlito and other gym and fitness center owners also had to deal with not knowing when the state would allow them to reopen again. There came a moment in June when a federal judge ordered that the businesses could reopen, but the day before that was scheduled to happen, judges from the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision and upheld Whitmer’s executive order.

Ferlito called that moment “heartbreaking,” as they had worked all week to get the gym ready to open for its members.

“Some people took it pretty hard, but the members themselves have been really understanding of the situation,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot going on and everyone’s very aware of what’s going on. That helps, that we’re all kind of in the same boat together. So it’s not a surprise to them. They see it all going on as well. But it’s tough … when you think you’re ready to go and you get yourself ready to go and then you’re just stopped in your tracks.”

Ferlito said it’s tough to say if the business was close to closing down for good at any point. While rent for the gym had been deferred, they still had to pay thousands of dollars a month in utilities and insurances.

“We were OK for a little while longer, but … we don’t know how long everything’s going to go, so you try not to pull out of your personal (funds) at this time either to put money into the business. So we were getting a little antsy towards the end there,” Ferlito said.

Nakisher said there were times where she too was frustrated with the state, as she saw other facilities were allowed to reopen, but she was supportive of Whitmer.

“I knew at the end of the day that our best interests were being considered and the safety of, obviously, our community,” she said.

Now that they are allowed to reopen, Ferlito worked to organize new cleaning procedures and schedules for the equipment, which have been spaced apart to give members proper separation while working out.

“Realistically, there’s a lot more cleaning and making sure everyone’s wearing masks,” he said.

“We’re excited and we’ve had a lot of members even just pop in real quick just to say hi. We’ve had a very good response so far from the members,” he continued.

Nakisher has been cleaning her studio for months in preparation for its restart date. She also spoke to other studios around the country on what they did to safely reopen and asked what products they used that would be safe for her equipment and clients.

“I have great people around me there and my clients love the studio and the location and everybody’s really excited to start back, feeling good about themselves again, taking care of themselves the way they like to and having a safe, clean space to go to,” Nakisher said.


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