North Shore Fitness Centers Persevere Through the Pandemic

Fitness centers were hit especially hard by the pandemic but thanks to perseverance and intense disinfection methods some workout sites are bringing back clients and returning to normalcy. 

Temperature checks, class size limits, hospital-grade disinfectants and virus-killing UVC light are some of the tools in place to allow customers to resume their workout routines.

And business owners have evolved to meet the needs of customers as the rules about workouts have changed. 

“Our cleanup people are working every day,” said Tony Duncan, owner of Body Science PFT in Kenilworth. 

Duncan had the unfortunate timing of relocating his gym and physical training center after 15 years in Wilmette to Kenilworth in late 2019. Within three months, the business closed due to the statewide stay-at-home order. 

It was a similar story for Wilmette’s YogaSix location, a studio that opened in late 2019, shortly before having to shut down the studio space and pivot to virtual classes. 

“It’s been particularly hard because a new business has a runway toward success,” said Suzanne Rossi, who operates YogaSix in Wilmette. “That got completely short which has been an incredible challenge.”

YogaSix shifted to Zoom yoga, then outdoor classes. When it finally reopened the studio space, class sizes were capped at 10 people, and Rossi said the classes were even smaller because she had measured the space to create a 6-foot distance between each mat, and then added some more space from there.

Duncan said he went from 2,000 clients a month to zero, and it’s been a process to give customers the confidence to return to in-person training. 

“Client confidence was so low,” Duncan said.

Trainers Melissa Cesare and Leslie Garnett launched Glencoe’s Unify Fitness about three years before the pandemic hit.

fitness centers in chicagoland, Unify Fitness
Courtesy of Unify Fitness

Cesare pivoted to offering online training sessions and classes to a number of her clients, and the gym even distributed some of its equipment to its members to use at home during the early months of the pandemic.

“We delivered all kinds of functional training equipment for our clients that wanted to stay on Zoom,” Cesare said.

Cesare said that guests who have returned to in-person training maintain 6 feet of distance at Unify Fitness, and sanitation and cleanliness remain an emphasis for the gym.

Body Science PFT uses an “abundance of social distancing,” Duncan said, and staff does temperature checks on those attending workouts and classes and have hand-sanitizing stations throughout the facility. 

“We have these things called atomizers,” Duncan said. “They’re hospital-grade, antiviral, antifungal disinfectant. It’s not just a spray; it actually atomizes so it’s in the air. We fumigate everything with that.”

At YogaSix, the air-circulation system is “full of UVC light,” which is effective against killing viruses and bacteria, Rossi said. 

She said the studio switched to a hospital-grade disinfectant, and staff cleans the floor after every class. 

Despite the early setbacks, Rossi has confidence in her studio and the business in general. She’s working on opening a second location, she said. 


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Erin Yarnall is a freelance reporter with The Record North Shore, which produced this story in partnership with Make It Better Media Group for the Winnetka-Northfield Chamber of Commerce.