BARRE — The three garage doors lining a wall of Green Mountain Community Fitness are wide open on this warm, humid afternoon, letting the outside into a large gym.
In a few hours, a group of members will gather to exercise here — socially distanced by six-foot squares taped out in green on the floor, each with its own spray bottle of disinfectant.
Welcome to the world of indoor gyms in the age of the coronavirus.
“It’s a 30-foot ceiling at the peak,” said Nick Petterssen, gazing up at the apex of the gym. “You’re feeling more safe because it’s more like the outdoors than the indoors in here.”
That’s the hope anyway.
Petterssen owns Green Mountain Community Fitness with his wife, Cady Hart-Petterssen. The business is facing an existential threat as its owners try to lure back members who have been holed up in their houses by the pandemic.
Sidelined by the pandemic
Petterssen and his wife ran a CrossFit business in Barre for 10 years before launching Green Mountain Community Fitness in January. They acquired the building along with the business, First in Fitness, which had been operating there since 1976.
The maze-like, 63,000-square-foot building included tennis courts and an indoor swimming pool, a rarity in central Vermont, according to Petterssen.
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The pool, however, has seen better times. Its liner is stained with iron deposits that make it look dirty. Rust creeps along the edges of the room, and the feel of the building in general is tired and anachronistic, except in those spaces where Petterssen and Hart-Petterssen and their team have updated with new materials and bright colors.
“We saw the potential of the space, the members who were already here and might like to branch out,” Petterssen said. “We felt this place needed a revival. We had a great population of athletes already working out in a style we believed in. We felt like a merging of those two things would work out for us.”
And it might have, if not for the coronavirus. First in Fitness had about 650 members. The couple’s CrossFit business had about 250 members for a combined total of about 900 members. Petterssen said they had completed a two-month transition of First in Fitness members into their CrossFit membership system.
“Everything was up and running and starting to go smooth,” he said. “Membership was starting to come in.”
Then the pandemic hit in mid-March and the newly formed Green Mountain Community Fitness immediately lost about 200 members, followed by a shut-down ordered by Gov. Phil Scott to slow the spread of the virus.
“It was a challenge,” said Hart-Petterssen.
The loss of members wasn’t the only challenge. The couple had spent about $500,000 rejuvenating the building, on top of the purchase price, which Petterssen declined to divulge.
On May 29, Scott announced that gyms could open on June 1. But for Green Mountain Community Fitness, the damage had been done.
“We spent a lot of money on the facility, brought in an amazing team, built out our schedule, but now people aren’t showing up because people are scared to come back to the gym,” Petterssen said.
Fit and optimistic
Despite everything they’ve been through, Petterssen, 51, and Hart-Petterssen, 39, exude optimism. Both appear very fit. Asked about the structures in the gym that include rings, bars and big, red metal circles fixed about 12 feet above the floor, Hart-Petterssen flies into action.
She grabs the rings and starts doing dips, supporting her full body weight. Next she jumps up to grab the bar overhead and starts doing pull ups. Finally she takes a large medicine ball from a nearby rack and starts tossing it into the air against the red metal dot at the top of the structure, catching the ball on its way down.
“This is our throw-and-catch, a squat and toss of the ball,” Petterssen explains. “This is one of at least 100 movements we employ in our workout, mix and match in different combinations.”
That’s the CrossFit workout, a combination of weight and aerobic training that took the world by storm until founder Greg Glassman made inflammatory remarks about the nationwide protests against racism, and was accused of sexual harassment by former employees. Glassman stepped down as CEO on June 9.
Petterssen and Hart-Petterssen dropped their affiliation with CrossFit, but still teach the techniques.
“We can do exactly what we’ve been doing without calling it CrossFit and being wound up in that whole brand,” Petterssen said.
Community center with fitness at heart
Petterssen guides a tour of the sprawling, convoluted facility, which in addition to the indoor pool includes tennis courts and pickleball courts.
Pickleball, a tamer version of tennis that employs paddles and wiffle balls on a smaller court, is the fastest growing sport in the country, according to Petterssen. Its growth is being fueled by Baby Boomers who appreciate the ease of the game compared to tennis.
In room after room, Petterssen articulates the vision for Green Mountain Community Fitness, which incorporates space not only for other fitness businesses, such as Montpelier Martial Arts, but also for community-minded nonprofits like Green Mountain United Way, which has its 1,300-square-foot headquarters in the building.
“We’re not just building a fitness community, but really a community center with fitness at the heart of it,” Petterssen said.
Petterssen and Hart-Petterssen applied for a $50,000 grant from the state as part of Vermont’s economic stimulus package to overcome the effects of COVID-19, which Petterssen described as essential for their survival.
“Things are pretty dire. Cady and I are very positive and upbeat people, but when we get home at night there’s a huge amount of stress on our shoulders,” he said. “The future is very unsure for us right now.”
On Monday, the couple learned they received a grant, but not for the full amount they requested. In an e-mail, Marketing Director Gail Pevetti said they don’t feel comfortable disclosing the amount of the grant.
“It will be helpful but is by no means sufficient to carry us through the rest of the pandemic,” Pivetti said.
Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanDambrosioVT. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a digital subscription.