Illinois is shedding some tiers. The state has moved Health Region 10, which includes Evanston, from the Tier 3 coronavirus mitigation to Tier 2. This change lifts some but not all restrictions on facilities such as gyms, fitness centers and museums.

At the Evanston Athletic Club, this means they can “start up fitness classes again,” according to Customer Service Representative Marty Gaughan, instead of just having individual workouts or one-on-one training. Under the new guidelines, classes are limited to 10 people. There will still be capacity restrictions on the total number of people in the gym.

Gyms and fitness centers were among the most impacted businesses when the coronavirus pandemic hit last March. Gaughan says things for EAC have been “steady” recently, and are getting better now that Northwestern students are back.

At Planet Fitness in Evanston, group classes are not part of the mix. However, the change to Tier 2 will allow the reopening of locker rooms and showers. Chris Short, Communications Director for PLNTF Holdings, says lockers and showers will still have social distance between them.

The change to Tier 2 also means reservations are no longer required. However, Short says if the facility is close to its 25% maximum capacity under state guidelines, people will be asked to stay in their cars until space opens up.

Smaller fitness facilities, without a parent corporation behind them, face different challenges. At D21 Fit Studio, owner Dietrich Horsey says he was fortunate to get Payroll Protection Program funding last spring. “That grant probably kept us afloat,” he says. Without it, “things would have been really tight.”

The shift from Tier 3 to Tier 2 mitigation won’t change things much for D21, which focuses on individual personal training rather than group classes. However, the COVID pandemic has modified business reality for Horsey and his three employees.

“We’re beginning to look to connect to other small businesses,” he says. “We refer clients to them, they refer people to us.” One positive outgrowth of the pandemic, if there is such a thing, is that D21 was able to find a larger location for less rent.

While D21 received federal PPP dollars last year, the state has separately OK’d $275 million in Business Interruption Grants (BIG) for 9,000 COVID-harmed small businesses across Illinois. (The grants are not linked to Tier mitigation). $16.4 million, or 7% of the grants, went to gyms and fitness centers, including TruFit Personal Training in Evanston.

Owner Isabelle Libmann says the change from Tier 3 to Tier 2 will not affect TruFit, which is all individual personal training rather than group classes. However, Libmann says she was “greatly relieved and really fortunate” to receive the $20,000 state grant. “Without it,” she says, “I’d have had a serious conversation about closing.” The money helps pay the rent, as well as for COVID-related supplies such as air purifiers.

So while the move from Tier 3 to Tier 2 mitigation will impact some gyms more than others, and some not at all, it will allow museums in Region 10 to reopen, at 25% capacity. The Evanston History Center, for example, plans to reopen Feb. 1, with attendance by reservation.

The latest lifting of restrictions does not apply yet to restaurants and bars in Evanston, where in-person dining and drinking are still prohibited. To owners and employees of those facilities, there are still more tears than tiers.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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