A personal trainer works with a client at the JCC of San Francisco. (Photo/Courtesy JCCSF)
A personal trainer works with a client at the JCC of San Francisco. (Photo/Courtesy JCCSF)

JCCs reopen gyms, giving boost to financial recovery

By June of this year, the economic outlook for Bay Area JCCs was grim. Like other businesses, they were laying off staff by the hundreds and slashing major portions of their budgets.

Recently, though, the Jewish Community Centers were given a lifeline.

In mid-September, most Bay Area counties started permitting indoor fitness centers — the driving revenue stream for many local JCCs — to reopen at limited capacity.

While JCC leaders expressed hope about the reopenings, current trends point toward a painfully slow economic recovery for the organizations. It could take months, if not a year or more, for the JCCs to return to normal levels of revenue and membership counts, executives said.

“It is such a crystal ball we’re looking into,” said Craig Salgado, chief operating officer of the JCC of San Francisco. “We see a slow growth through the first half of the [next] calendar year, assuming that there are no changes in the health environment. And that’s a big assumption.”

A spike in coronavirus cases, he said, could send gyms and workout facilities back into an abyss.

The JCCSF officially reopened on Sept. 29, when members could come inside to lift weights and use treadmills for the first time since March 13.

The JCCSF has transformed its workout spaces to accommodate county guidelines. For example, the third floor, a 10,000-square-foot basketball court, now has socially-distanced exercise machines spread throughout. And the 4,400-square-foot Kanbar Hall, normally used for theater performances or banquets, is now where yoga and tai chi classes are held.

Indoor pools remain closed at JCCs in all counties.

San Francisco County is allowing only 10 percent capacity at indoor gyms. If that restriction continues for a long time, it will present a significant challenge for the JCCSF.

Before the pandemic, the fitness center accounted for 40 percent of JCCSF’s total revenue, Salgado said. This year, he said, fitness center revenue has dropped by almost half. Salgado anticipates around 350 member check-ins per day now, down from pre-pandemic levels of up to 1,700.

That loss in revenue is also reflected in the slow pace of rehiring staff laid off when the building closed.

The JCCSF announced in June it was laying off 150 employees, and so far, it has been able to rehire less than 5 percent, Salgado said, although he added that 75 previous JCCSF contract workers have been brought back to help with the reopening of the fitness center.

But are gym members comfortable returning to fitness centers right now? That might be one of the greatest roadblocks to even a partial economic revival for many JCCs.

A poll released Sept. 28 by Morning Consultant, which tracks how likely Americans are to return to activities they did before the pandemic, found that only 21 percent of U.S. adults feel comfortable about working out in a public gym.

It’s a data point that hits home with Sally Kauffman Flinchbaugh, COO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.

“We are finding people want to come back,” she said. “But it’s just about them being comfortable.”

The OFJCC’s indoor fitness center opened Sept. 29 under Santa Clara County guidelines that are similar to the 10 percent San Francisco rule, with one big difference: No cardio is allowed indoors.

Sally Flinchbaugh
Sally Flinchbaugh

Flinchbaugh’s JCC is somewhat lucky compared to others: Outdoor fitness areas were allowed to reopen on Aug. 3, and since the OFJCC has a lot of open-air space, it was able to move exercise equipment to a turf soccer field and other outdoor areas.

Even with that, however, Flinchbaugh said the economic outlook is “fragile” and “a little worse” than when 21 percent of the workforce was laid off in June. Aside from several preschool teachers, none of those employees have been brought back, she said.

“That’s very slow going,” she said of the rehiring process. “[It’s] dependent on demand. We’re gonna get there. It’s just unclear how and when.”

The Addison-Penzak JCC (Los Gatos), the Osher Marin JCC (San Rafael) and the Peninsula JCC (Foster City) also have fitness centers; the JCC East Bay (Berkeley), the JCC Sonoma County (Santa Rosa) and the Contra Costa JCC (which doesn’t have a campus) do not.

Osher Marin JCC opened its indoor fitness center on Oct. 1, also at 10 percent capacity.

Lael Gray
Lael Gray

Lael Gray, CEO of the APJCC, predicted the economic recovery of her JCC — which laid off 25 percent of its staff early in the summer — won’t be complete until the summer of 2022. It’s going to be “a while” until membership levels return to normal, said a very busy Gray, who took over only 16 months ago and then on July 1 took on the added responsibility of interim CEO of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley.

The APJCC’s fitness center reopened on Sept. 21, but no laid-off staff had been hired back as of the first few days of October.

“We’re envisioning that fitness will be the place where people are most careful in coming back,” Gray said, noting that a significant portion of APJCC members are 60 and older, and thus more guarded against taking risks when it comes to the coronavirus.

In the meantime, the APJCC is hoping to bring in philanthropic support to weather the storm until “the other side of the pandemic” arrives, Gray said. What has helped so far, she said, was $25,000 from Taube Philanthropies in June and a $1.1 million loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. “We’re muddling through this, [but] it’s not easy,” Gray said.

The Peninsula JCC’s pools reopened in July. (Photo/Courtesy PJCC)
The Peninsula JCC’s outdoor pool reopened in July; the indoor pool remains closed. (Photo/Courtesy PJCC)

The Peninsula JCC opened its indoor fitness center on Oct. 5 for what it deemed Stage 2a. Before then, the PJCC was open only for outdoor activities such as lap swimming, personal training and small-group sessions (all by appointment only).

Stephanie Levin, the PJCC’s chief engagement and innovation officer, said the fitness center closure has adversely impacted revenue, as have new San Mateo County guidelines regarding preschools. The county currently allows a maximum of 14 children inside classrooms, Levin said, as opposed to the pre-Covid levels of 24. In addition, the PJCC has had to hire additional staff in order to meet new teacher-to-student guidelines.

“We’re a bit at the mercy of these regulations,” Levin said, “which we’re happy to comply with. But it does change the financial picture for us.”

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.