On Monday night, operators of fitness facilities throughout the Northeast braced for a blizzard by closing early, sending employees home and cancelling programming. Some club operators woke to 20 inches of snow with more mounting through the day while others woke to much less.
The National Weather Service reported that toward the end of the day today, Framingham, MA, near Boston, had received 30 inches of snow. Boston-based Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women closed its facilities at 9 p.m. last night and remained closed today.
"The storm came as billed. It was a monster, dropping 2 to 3 feet," says Mark Harrington, owner of Healthworks Fitness. "It takes an act of god for us to close. We pride ourselves in getting open even if staffing is not ideal. In this situation, it was clear on Monday that it should be a direct hit. State of emergencies were announced early, which meant no public transportation or even driving was allowed. Our clubs in urban areas are generally accessible on foot by many members, but the Healthworks team is not always local. In this siutaion, we made an early decision in support of our staff's safety."
Harrington says the clubs will re-open tomorrow at 5:30 a.m.
"We'll have a line at the door, and business will quickly reutrn to normal," he says. "We'll have a lot of sore backs to deal with, including our own. Stretching out those aches and pains from shoveling will be the first order."
Six of the Longfellow Club locations in the Boston area were closed today but will reopen tomorrow, according to a note on the company's website.
In New York where snowfall totals were much less, many club operators prepared for a major weather event that turned out to be less than so. Clay Health Club and Spa, New York, closed about an hour-and-a-half early Monday night because the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority decided to stop running trains at 11 p.m., says Katheryn Martin, general manager of Clay Health Club and Spa. To ensure the safety of its employees, a skeleton crew of locals who live close to the facility continued working until 9:30 p.m.
With only 6 to 10 inches of snow in New York City Tuesday morning, however, the club never lost power and was able to send some employees who live near the club to open the facility on time at 5:30 a.m.
"We remained open because of our members," Martin says. "For the most part, a large majority live locally and are a short walking distance away."
She anticipates the revenue for the spa services and café will be affected because of slowed traffic, but the club is busy and receiving steady traffic today, she says.
Other clubs in the Northeast also are opening but modifying their schedules. Exhale Spa's New York locations were open Tuesday during different operating hours, Exhale Black Bay was closed and planned to open Wednesday, and Exhale Battery Wharf will be open for classes only.
"We want to best serve our guests," says Kim Kiernan, director of public relations for Exhale. "However, our number one priority is the safety of guests and associates."
Tennis Bubble Worries
Several fitness facility owners were relieved that the snowfall did not reach expected levels, including Rick Beusman, owner of Saw Mill Sports Management, Mount Kisco, NY. Two of the company's three facilities have tennis courts and swimming pools covered by air structures or bubbles that are susceptible to significant damage when a storm with high winds strikes.
"People told me that they love it when it snows, but it is one of the most stressful nights of the year for me," Beusman says. "I was up all night worrying about our bubbles coming down. Today, I am jumping up and down and waving my hands in the air. The storm was a fizzle. We only got about 6 inches of snow instead of 30, and the power stayed on."
Beusman had prepared for the worst-case scenario Monday night, because a previous storm caused about $500,000 in damage to the bubbles and forced the club to close part of its facility for a month.
To prevent this from happening again, his staff completely cleared the pool deck and tennis courts so that the lifeguard chairs, tennis nets and light posts would not puncture holes in the bubble if it had collapsed, Beusman says. Because of the potentially significant financial impact of a damaged bubble, a club employee stayed at the facility overnight with instructions to deflate the bubble if the weight of the snow caused a dimple in the center of the bubble.
None of the Saw Mill Clubs sustained damage because of the snowfall, and all three opened Tuesday at about noon. The clubs had closed at 7 p.m. Monday, which forced cancellation of youth aquatic and tennis programming, Beusman says.
"Last night, we didn't want to put the parents in the position to come in, but today, the roads look like they are going to be fine, and there's no reason not to open the club," he says.
The club's staff is notifying members of the schedule by text, emails and messages on the website. Beusman says he expects the club to be filled with kids this afternoon because all the schools are closed.
Not Like Last Year's Storm
Linda Mitchell, director of public and community relations for the Newton Athletic Club, Newtown, PA, says she expects to have a lot of families visiting the facility Tuesday, but for the total visits to be down about half to one-third because of the weather.
"When schools are closed, it changes the whole tenor of things," she says. "It depends on how well the back roads are cleared out, but if they are cleaned off quickly, the parents will grab their kids and come to the club. I expect that we will see a lot of folks with their kids in tow today."
Although the Newtown area received 6 inches of snow rather than the expected 12 to 18 inches, the club was preparing for a storm like it had last year, when many of the 12,000 members were out of power. Because Newtown Athletic Club still had electricity during that storm, it stayed open and invited members to get a hot meal at the café, take showers and recharge their mobile devices.
"One day we had 2,000 people come into the club," she says. "They let their kids run in the gym and get their energy out, and they were sitting on the floors and in the hallways trying to power up their devices. It was great because they were safe and had what they needed, and we were lucky to be able to be their refuge."
This time around, however, the snow caused a minimal impact to both the club and its members. The facility closed at 7 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. Monday night, and then opened at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning instead of 5 a.m.
Newtown notified members of schedule changes using email blasts, Facebook, Twitter and its website. The club began notifying its members on Sunday night of the impending storm, and it put them on alert to watch for email updates.
"We try to be proactive, and it works very well," Mitchell says. "Our members tell us that they never have to wonder what to do because they know well in advance if we are going to be closed or change our schedule due to bad weather."
The College Crowd
Many colleges and universities in the Northeast decided in advance of the storm to close most of their operations for Tuesday, but at several schools, some recreation facilities remained open for students and staff members who stayed on campus.
The University of Massachusetts Lowell closed most campus facilities Monday afternoon, but some of its recreation facilities remained open. The Campus Recreation Center on the East Campus and the fitness center inside Riverview Suites residence hall were open Monday night, and the university planned to keep those facilities open all day Tuesday.
Keeping the recreation centers open gives students marooned on campus by the blizzard a way to relieve their cabin fever and stay occupied, says Juliet Donohoe, a welcome desk attendant at the Campus Recreation Center.
"Everybody is still here on campus, and this gives them something to do," says Donahoe.
The center normally opens at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, but because of the storm, the facility did not open until 10 a.m.
Northeastern University in Boston cancelled classes yesterday and today, but some of its recreation facilities will remain open for the use of students and staff on campus. The Marino Recreation Center was open throughout Monday night and was operating during the day Tuesday. Two other facilities--the Cabot Center and Badger and Rosen Squashbusters facility--were open Monday evening but were closed Tuesday.
The University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT, closed its student recreation facility Monday night because of the snowstorm. The school's emergency alert system stated that the recreation facilities were remaining closed Tuesday, and all program registration has been suspended for Tuesday and Wednesday. The university has not decided when the recreation facilities will reopen.
Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, cancelled classes for Monday night and Tuesday, but The Gosman Athletic Center remained open Monday for recreational use. The center and its pool were open Tuesday, staffed by on-campus students, and intramural programming was scheduled to proceed Tuesday night.