Gyms among the small businesses hurting the most from pandemic

November 5, 2020

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By Nick Reagan

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – There is no question small businesses have taken a big hit from the pandemic and efforts to curb the spread of the disease, but just how big of a hit is something mostly left to speculation.

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce has attempted to gauge how extensive the damage is by asking South Carolina cities and counties to report how many new business licenses were issued this year and how many businesses shut down. In their study, the data shows business licenses issued are down 31 percent compared to the same time this year.

Frank Knapp is the president and CEO of the SCSBCC. He says only three local governments have provided data on how many businesses have shut down: Horry County, Rock Hill, and Hilton Head.

“The worst one was in Hilton Head,” Knapp said. “In Hilton Head we are looking at 227 businesses closed from January to September. We don’t know how that stacks up to a normal year, but it does reflect that small businesses are being hammered by the pandemic.”

Knapp says the personal services industries were the hardest hit. That includes financial services, beauty care, healthcare and fitness centers.

Will Sunner is the co-owner of Compass Fitness in Charleston. He says it has been a challenge to keep the doors open after opening their first brick and mortar location in May.

“We have pretty much applied for any form of assistance that we could; so the PPP, the EIDL Loan and the South Carolina Cares Act Grant,” Sunner said. “It’s been difficult.”

Sunner was able to apply for an exemption and stay open during the shutdown, but they could only have one client in their facility at a time. Sunner had to adapt.

“A lot of our clientele is the 40 to 65-year-old clients and a lot of those people have a fear of entering the gym environment,” Sunner said. “We have adapted. We have been offering online training for clients who are not comfortable coming into the facility.”

Challenges at the gym are industry wide. Grit Box Fitness has several locations that were threatened by the pandemic and subsequent economic shutdown as well.

“It’s going to take at least a year to get back on track and that’s really industry wide,” said Cody Cooper, owner of Grit Box Fitness. “A lot of people are saying the fitness industry will never be the same because a lot of brick and mortar gyms are really not as popular now because so much has moved online.”

Grit Box also moved classes and programs online, but says it hurts their efforts to build a fitness community.

Cooper tapped into government assistance just like Compass. He would like to see more stimulus but is not going to rely on the government.

“It did help during the pandemic when we were shut down but the hardest part for a lot of businesses is once you reopen, things get more expensive,” Cooper said. “I am going to run my business the way I have to, to get through these tough times without that [government stimulus]. If it does come then it will get passed onto my staff and we’ll be able to do more but it’s not going to be my saving grace.”

More stimulus is exactly what Knapp says need to happen in order to get the economy going in every sector. He says small businesses are the key to rebounding the economy.

“Small business are what led us out of the Great Recession. They’re the ones that did the hiring to get us out of that, not big business. If we don’t have a healthy small business economy to help us get out of this recession, we are going to be in this recession a lot longer than needed,” Knapp said. “We have to do whatever it takes to keep the economy afloat.”

Knapp says new business startups are at a 40 year low across the nation.

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