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By Jana Hill
Mill Creek Beacon Editor 

Mill Creek gym re-opens with lifting of state restrictions

'We were zero income for seven months'


Last updated 1/20/2021 at 3:39pm

Jana Hill

Tegbar Asmake sits on a machine and texts her family, during a workout at the Mill Creek Planet Fitness. She considers the gym her home away from home, and was excited about it re-opening.

Mill Creek residents can get back to their workout routines, now that gyms were cleared to re-open.

Planet Fitness, in the Gateway area near 128th Street, was one of many gyms that re-opened for a second time since the pandemic began. The limit put a strain on the business.

"We can't do take-out," said James Pope, regional manager for Planet Fitness. "We were zero income for seven months."

Gyms shut down in mid-March and re-opened in August. Then they shut down again on Nov. 16, said Elyse Janzen, general manager at the Mill Creek club.

Re-opening rules result in about 10% capacity, to maintain the required social distancing of one person every 500 square feet, Pope said. That may create pressure to make the lease, for many businesses.

But the Mill Creek site appears to be doing well.

"It's hard to be afraid of that right now, because we're open. We were one of the only industries in the entire state (to close completely)," Pope said.

During the first shutdown, gym visitors could mask up upon entry, remove it while exercising, then mask again when changing machines. This re-opening requires masks on, for the entire visit. Showers are still unavailable, and are not anticipated as an allowable amenity until Phase 3.

All Washington state counties are in Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee's Healthy Washington Roadmap Plan. Advancement from Phase 1 will require an application that considers infection rates and hospitalizations.

As most gym users, the top brass at Planet Fitness had a hard time staying idle during the first shutdown, when they created "United We Move." The free, abbreviated workouts are still offered, online. Pope said he cannot speak for the company as to why they were made, but given his experience with Planet Fitness, he said there was a sense of duty to exercisers who were stuck at home.

"When everything shut down people needed to move still," Pope said. "They needed to move at home."

The workouts are approximately 20 minutes and remain accessible to those who are not comfortable coming back yet.

"Our role is to provide that, in the community," Pope said.

The statewide membership status had an uptick of about 600 during the shutdown. Mill Creek numbers were not available. But the franchise itself is sustaining as well as can be expected.

"I'm just happy we're having more joins than cancels," Janzen said.

The gym's re-opening came with some preparation. Signage on machines keeps people apart and masked. The signs are marked as "social fitnessing" and reminders are put up to keep things sanitized through "cleansiderate" actions of wiping down machines. Visitors are urged to wipe them down before and after, Pope said. Touchless check-ins are available on the Planet Fitness app, which also has a "crowd meter" to show visitors how full the gym is when they arrive, Pope said.

He said visitors can have a contact-free visit, if they want to, but staff are finding people miss the social element of their gym. And they often want to stop at the desk and thank the staff for re-opening, Janzen said.

One limit to re-opening is that shower facilities are not yet allowed, under Phase 1 rules. Phase 1 is now the status of every county in the state, including Snohomish County. Advancing requires a number of metrics be met, all circled around infection-rates and hospital capacity.

The lack of showers in a gym facility means some pre-pandemic workout routines, before work or on a lunch break, cannot yet be re-established. But Janzen said the staff is hearing nothing but gratitude.

"At this point, people are just happy we're open," Janzen said.

Carl Heim of Snohomish is one of those happy people. He was at the Mill Creek gym Jan. 12, and said he originally joined to stop taking medicine, and improve his overall health. Now he works out daily. When he walked in the doors for the first time after being away for so long, he said it felt "sort of refreshing."

Tegbar Asmake said she lifted weights at her other home in Edmonds during the shutdown – when she got back to her gym in Mill Creek, she was "so excited. I texted my family and said, 'I'm home.'"

The at-home workouts got her by, but the gym has more for her workout.

"It's just more choices and you get motivated when you see other people," Asmake said.

Kiran Sangha and Navi Takhai, both of Mill Creek, were also lifting weights Jan. 12.

Sangha said, "it felt good" to walk in the doors to the gym.

Jana Hill

Treadmills and other machines are separated by yellow "social fitnessing" reminders to keep visitors apart from one an other.

Takhai said it feels "pretty safe. I felt like there were not a lot of people, and everyone was wearing masks."

The one benefit to opening up under state guidelines, for Planet Fitness, was floorspace. Square footage was not released by the company, but the view (see photos) gives a hint. The agency is also highly automated, so the count of how many are in the building at any given time is available at a glance. On Jan. 12, 22 people were there.

Pope notes that the business of gyms is a tough one right now.

Editor's comment: Two small gyms were contacted but a connection was not yet made. If you are a Mill Creek business classified as a gym under state guidelines and interested in sharing your experiences running a business in the pandemic, send your phone number and best time to call, to [email protected]


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