Grand Openings in a Pandemic Age: A Roundup of New Gyms

“Operationally there were always going to be challenges, but we’ve been lucky to have folks on our team who were really thoughtful about cleanliness and safety,” says Climb Oso’s founder, Chris Whittaker. Photo courtesy of Climb Oso
Grand openings in a pandemic age aren't easy, but multiple gyms are taking on the challenge (including Climb Oso pictured here).
“Operationally there were always going to be challenges, but we’ve been lucky to have folks on our team who were really thoughtful about cleanliness and safety,” says Climb Oso’s founder, Chris Whittaker. Photo courtesy of Climb Oso

One significant indicator that the gym industry is finding some footing following the profusion of temporary closures from the COVID-19 crisis is this: Not only have many gyms reopened with strategic mitigation protocols, but a number of new gyms have opened recently as well.

Three weeks ago, CBJ reported on the opening of Climberz, a 4,100-square-foot bouldering gym in South Dakota. In an exclusive interview with CBJ at the time, the gym’s owner, Travis Klinghagen, said he did not want any customers visiting the gym if they were uncomfortable with the idea of venturing out amid the pandemic. But Klinghagen added that Climberz would be as clean as possible—a recreational and communal refuge for those who sought it out after being cooped up at home.

As an update, Klinghagen tells CBJ that the South Dakota community has been supportive of the new gym’s opening, although there is still a detectable hesitance from some climbers in the area. “I get phone calls from a large number of people coming through our doors—prior to them coming in—asking where our occupancy is at that moment, which tells me they are still cautious and practicing social distancing,” says Klinghagen. “We haven’t had much backlash with any protocols that we have been using. Liquid chalk has been received very positively. We are in a very open market regarding COVID-19 here in South Dakota, but we can still definitely see that it is affecting our community.”

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New Climbing West of the Mississippi

The South Dakota town in which Climberz is located, Tea, has a population of approximately 5,000 people—a fairly modest market for a gym. Yet, new gym openings have occurred in other parts of the country, and in extremely dense markets in some cases.

For example, Climb Oso, a 35,000-square-foot gym located in Dallas, Texas, opened approximately one month ago. Founder Chris Whittaker acknowledges that pandemic-prompted feelings of uncertainty have pervaded the world practically since the beginning of the year; but Whittaker also says that opening a gym has been rewarding. “For many of our community members, we were the first place that they visited after being in relative isolation for months,” Whittaker tells CBJ. “It’s been really amazing to be able to serve as a bright spot for folks.”

When asked to specify what some of the biggest challenges of opening a new gym in a pandemic era have been, Whittaker notes cleanliness and safety, but says that important efforts related to those aspects did not need to be altered much because such concerns “have always been part of [Climb Oso’s] ethos.”

Whittaker says grand openings in a pandemic age can serve as a bright spot though.
Whittaker says Climb Oso has served as a “bright spot” for people who have been relatively isolated since March. Photo courtesy of Climb Oso

Instead, Whittaker cites the initial uncertainty from local governing bodies, which had to be navigated in order to open the gym. “There was a period where every day we were reading news reports and executive orders, trying to understand how requirements and guidance was evolving,” Whittaker recalls. “We needed to make sure we were not only compliant, but also going above and beyond to ensure the wellness of our community and staff members. At the end of the day, it may be legal to reopen but practically people need to feel safe—that’s a much harder nut to crack, and something we’ll always need to think through.”

Another recently opened new gym is The Front’s South Main location in Millcreek, Utah, just minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. The new gym was originally scheduled to have its unveiling for USA Climbing’s 2020 Open Sport and Speed Nationals in March. That competition was postponed amid the pandemic, but the gym itself is now open. The gym—and all Front locations—have enacted phases that began with active members having exclusive access to the facilities. Tommy Chandler, Marketing Director for The Front, tells CBJ that customers are slowly coming back, and the gym recently had a night where it started to feel “busy”—a true milestone for any gym in this climate.

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Canada Sees Development on the Atlantic

The new gym openings have not been limited to the United States. Seven Bays Bouldering, which operates a facility in the North End section of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was scheduled to have a grand opening for its second facility—in the Bayer’s Lake area of that city—in March. That grand opening was postponed until mid-June, but both locations are now operational.

The new, 12,000-square-foot Bayer’s Lake gym features a café, in addition to bouldering and yoga. The Seven Bays Bouldering website offers a booking system for members interested in climbing at either gym. “We recognize that the new policies and health restrictions will take time to adjust to, but please know that we are working towards returning to normal as quickly as we can and we look forward to having you join us once you are ready,” the website notes.

Seven Bays Bouldering, pictured here, is another gym that recently opened for the first time.
Opening our second gym in Bayers Lake has been a roller coaster of emotions,” reads one Seven Bays Instagram post. “Building a gym during a pandemic is an adventure we’ll never forget.” Photo courtesy of Seven Bays Bouldering

Also in Halifax, East Peak Climbing reopened its new gym in the commercial Quinpool District. Not quite a grand opening, the gym was open just two weeks in March before COVID-19 forced temporary closure. One of the most unique aspects of the gym is that it’s situated in a newly renovated building which formerly housed the Oxford Theatre.

“We reopened on June 12th, as our local government restrictions lifted, and we haven’t had a new local case of COVID in over a week,” confirms Ben Winstanley, Head Routesetter at East Peak. “We’re quickly heading back towards normal operations, with some added precautions for maintaining social distancing and sanitization.”

Share Your Grand Openings and Gym Projects

We love hearing about grand openings and new gym projects. If your gym is opening for the first time or you have a new gym project underway, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us and tell us about it.

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