The shutdown of gymnasiums because of the Covid-19 curbs has robbed thousands of employees of their livelihood.
The future seems bleaker as several owners said they were mulling permanent closure if the shutdown got stretched beyond June. Having to pay rent and other overhead expenses with zero income is getting tougher by the day, they said.
Over five months of shutdown in 2020 had dealt a lethal blow to the sector. Now, within another year, the curbs are threatening to deliver a knockout punch.
On Friday, the Gym Owners’ Forum (West Bengal) had written to the chief minister, requesting that the gyms be allowed to resume operations with a set of standard operating procedures.
“The second wave of Covid infections has hit the fitness service and preventive health-care sector the hardest. Our businesses have virtually collapsed and many of us are facing bankruptcy and complete shutdown from which we are unlikely to recover. In compliance with all the directives we have kept our gyms/fitness centres closed since 30th April 2021…. However, this has resulted in immense losses with no relief. As it is, the business is not very lucrative and runs on the monthly cash flows generated and has to bear high rentals,” the letter said.
The shutdown means “loss of livelihood for more than 2 lakh people”, it added.
Suman Mitra, a fitness trainer at a gym in Nagerbazar, has been getting half his salary since May. He is not unfamiliar with a prolonged income loss. “Last year, when gyms were shut for over five months, I had to break my fixed deposit to keep the kitchen fire burning. I don’t know what I will do this time. I don’t have any savings left,” said the 37-year-old.
His wife, a beautician, is also out of work because of the Covid curbs.
Another trainer at a gym in south Calcutta, who did not want to be named, has been selling fish at a market in Bagha Jatin. “I had done the same during the lockdown last year. I have to sustain my family,” said the man in his 30s.
“If there is no solution by this month, I will have no other option than a permanent closure,” said Rupam Sinha, the owner of the Physiomax chain of gymnasiums. He has three gyms — one in Salt Lake and two in Dum Dum.
Sinha has to shell out over Rs 2.5 lakh every month in rent and partial salaries of his staff. “I have 22 employees. I know their livelihood will be gone but I don’t have any other option,” said Sinha.
Most of the city-based gyms have a six-monthly or annual membership option that most patrons opt for. Many patrons who have already paid the fee are asking for refunds for May and June, said owners.
The footfall has been on the decline since the gyms reopened last year, said owners. Some of the trainers are coaching patrons virtually. But the number is negligible.
“The revenue is zero. The fixed-cost components are unchanged. It is impossible to survive in this condition, especially for smaller units. Several gyms shut down last year, unable to bear the losses. If the shutdown gets stretched, many more gyms will also shut down for good,” said Gagan Sachdev, the owner of the Karma Fitness Studio chain and a member of the Gym Owners’ Forum.
The forum has around 150 members in Calcutta. The number of registered gyms and fitness centres in Bengal would be around 5,000, said a member.
The forum has organised a vaccination drive for staff of gyms in Calcutta at Bhawanipur Education Society College on Tuesday.
“Before opening, we have to spend a substantial amount on sanitisation and Covid-19 protocols. Spending any extra money will be extremely difficult for many owners. But this is a fight for survival. We are hoping the government allows us to resume operations as early as possible,” said another member of the forum.