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After almost three months of being forced to shut down, gyms and fitness clubs are struggling to figure out just how their members can still get a sweat on and maintain social distancing as they start to open up again.
And while their members may need some extra work to try to get themselves back to their pre-COVID fitness levels, access to the clubs is limited because they are only allowed to operate at half capacity.
Adding to the frustration is that some clubs owned by one local operator kept charging monthly fees and then members found the locations have closed permanently. They are the Snap Fitness locations on Portage Avenue and Osborne Street. They were both owned by Ryan Sorisseau.
Efforts to get refunds or even the courtesy of an explanation have been futile say some members who have been left high and dry. One of them paid in full for a year less than two weeks before the shut down.
Andrew Vandenberg spent $600 for the year at the downtown Snap location and for several weeks he’s tried unsuccessfully to get some sort of explanation, if not a refund.
"I sent him (Sorisseau) numerous emails," he said. "I sent head office numerous emails. They forwarded them to him and he ignores everything."
Brian Tietz, the vice-president of brand performance at Lift Brands, the parent company of Snap Fitness which is based just outside Minneapolis, said the company has terminated the franchise agreements with Sorisseau’s clubs and have demanded that he "refund membership dues collected for these months." He said they are trying to help transition members of clubs that have closed to area clubs that remain in operation.
"Snap Fitness’s guidance and policy for Canadian franchisees is and has been that Canadian clubs should not bill members during months in which clubs are closed as a result of pandemic-related governmental orders," he said.
Some members of those closed locations noticed that Associate Auto Auction recently auctioned off a large selection of fitness equipment with "Snap Fitness" logos on many pieces. A spokesperson at the auction house said they do not disclose information as to where goods originate from.
Tietz said, "Most Canadian Snap Fitness franchisees have adhered to our policy… (Sorisseau) elected to act in violation of Snap Fitness policy and guidance for Canadian clubs by proceeding to bill members despite the closures and by ignoring member billing queries and requests for refunds."
But it’s not clear how successful they will be in setting up members at other locations.
Shannon Reid, the owner of two Snap Fitness locations on St. Mary’s Road and St. Anne’s Road said she and her staff are trying to take in as many of those jilted members as possible.
"We have very busy facilities," she said. "We are doing our very best to accommodate as many members as is humanly possible. But with all things COVID now, we have run into a challenge because we have limited capacity."
Those locations are only allowed to have 20 people in one and 14 at the other at any given time. She said priority is given to her home club members who book times but she said she is taking names and numbers and trying to fit people in.
"This morning we had a couple in with 11 months left on a pre-paid membership (at one of the closed clubs) who we were able to fit in," she said. "They will continue to use our club and hopefully they will stay with us."
But Vandenberg did not have such luck. He was told at one Snap Fitness location that his pre-paid membership would not be honoured.
Reid said that while they are doing everything they can, they already had busy classes and her staff of 11 people are tired and feeling added pressure trying to squeeze everybody in while limiting attendance to 50 per cent capacity.
"I feel horrible for members being put in this situation," she said.
Besides Reid’s two locations, there are five other Snap Fitness locations operating in Winnipeg that are not connected to Sorisseau.
Sorisseau was unavailable for comment.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Monday, July 6, 2020 at 3:19 PM CDT: Corrects info that operator owned gym in Selkirk. Incorrect information originally appeared. Changes headline.
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