The Climbing Wall Association (CWA) is calling on all members of the climbing community to help get the Gyms Act passed. First filed in February, the bill is backed by other fitness industry leaders like the IHRSA and has been steadily gaining bipartisan support. If passed, the Gyms Act will provide $30 billion dollars in relief funding to help fitness facilities in America recover―including climbing gyms.
While the CWA has been mobilizing the climbing industry around the Gyms Act for months―most notably through its Inside Voices campaign―according to the CWA’s website the bill is currently working its way through Congress and between August 20 and September 15 is the critical time to act.
How can you help? Everyone in the industry can take five minutes to email their local Congress member through an automated form on the Access Fund’s website. The CWA has also provided a free toolkit for climbing gyms, brands and other influencers to activate their communities to do the same.
Supporting A Hard-Hit Industry
Virginia Congressman Don Beyer joined the community call and pointed out that gyms have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic.
“Gyms were hit as hard or harder than almost any other industry, parallel with restaurants or worse, because people were afraid to go into facilities where you’re working out and you’re sweating. It just seemed like a dangerous place, whether it was or not,” said Beyer.
As a result, climbing gyms around the world faced multiple rounds of closures since the pandemic began, as well as reduced consumer confidence and ongoing restrictions to capacity and programming. At the same time, in many circumstances fixed costs like rent have stayed the same, putting some gyms in a critical position. Of the U.S. gyms responding to the CWA’s March survey, only 66% believed they were not in danger of going out of business, and 59% expected it to take more than one year for membership and revenue to recover.
However, based on past CWA surveys, climbing gyms have not been sites of COVID-19 outbreaks―most likely thanks to ongoing safety measures such as masks, sanitization and advanced filtration. Stone Age Climbing in New Mexico, for instance, has reportedly had zero cases of COVID-19 traced to its gyms out of about 200,000 visits since reopening 14 months ago.
“A lot of people―including governors―were perceiving gyms as dangerous places, when in fact it may be just the opposite,” said Beyer.
Securing Vital Community Spaces
Meanwhile, climbing gyms have been doing everything they can to stay in business. Last year coalitions formed in states like Washington and California, and gyms pivoted their business models to include reservation systems, virtual and outdoor programming, and day camps for students. Especially during a pandemic, the physical and mental benefits of being active and being in a community have been vital to members.
“Mental health has come to the forefront of the problems that we’re having due to Covid,” said Lillian Chao-Quinlan, President of Sportrock Climbing Centers in Virginia, who also joined the CWA call. “I have talked to and climbed with many members who are so grateful that we have reopened.”
Additionally, the survival of climbing gyms has also meant the continuation of employment for gym staff. Some gyms like Sportrock received two rounds of PPP loans and have not had to furlough employees, but now Delta cases are rising in many regions and a third round of PPP loans is not yet in sight. Climbing gyms have also been buoyed by members who have continued their memberships throughout the pandemic, and that generosity may not continue through another round of closures. If so, climbing gyms prioritizing the well-being of their employees may find it more difficult to do so this time around.
“Having the Gyms Act will allow us to continue to pay our employees and keep them on board; it will allow us to offset some of the loss of memberships, of people who haven’t come back; it will help us also to continue our programming and our youth programs…we’re also looking into different ways to upgrade our HVAC systems and filtration systems―all of those things. And that won’t happen without additional support and funding,” said Chao-Quinlan.
Protecting Core Values
In addition to short-term relief, the Gyms Act could also help abate long-term consequences of the pandemic on climbing communities. Chris Winter, Executive Director of the Access Fund, noted during the CWA call that gyms have taken strides towards improving DEI since 2020, but the pandemic has complicated that work. As the pandemic drags on, DEI could continue to be one of the core values to be impacted, especially if―for instance―gyms struggling to employ staff must raise their prices to do so.
“We want climbing gyms to stay affordable, so that folks can continue to access climbing and to experience that―folks from all backgrounds,” said Winter. “The last thing we want is for climbing gyms to have to raise prices or to have to avoid growth in order to stay in business.”
The long-term impacts on climbing’s core values could continue to be felt outside of gyms too. Outdoor recreation has been popular since the pandemic began, with some outdoor climbing locations seeing up to a 300% increase in visitors according to the Access Fund’s 2020 report. Climbing gyms have long been entry points to outdoor climbing and promoted conservation and stewardship of outdoor lands. Especially after the Olympics, as climbing continues to grow in popularity, financially-stable gyms are needed to keep filling that role.
“We need the climbing gyms around the country, to help us share out these core values as our community grows over time,” said Winter. “And rest assured that the community is growing, it’s growing quickly, and we all see that.”
Every Letter Helps
When it comes to advocacy, often it feels like one action won’t make a difference at the highest level of politics. But according to Representative Beyer, every bit helps.
“Letters help, phone calls help. I think most offices like mine keep a running count of who’s for and against a given bill. But the best piece of all, wherever you are, is going to see your local Congress member or your local Senator,” said Beyer. “There are so many bills out there and so many different requests, that the ones that you can personalize immediately go to the top.”
As mentioned above, everyone in the industry can support the Gyms Act by taking five minutes to email their local Congress member using the Access Funds’ ready-made form. Gyms and brands can also download the CWA’s toolkit to help spread the word in social media posts and newsletters.
“Like Congressman Beyer said, one of the most effective things we can do is to express ourselves and our voices to our elected Representatives, and now is the time to do it,” concluded Winter.
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