Queanbeyan small business owner Pip De Vries said the arbitrary difference in health restrictions between Canberra and Queanbeyan has cost her F45 gym some loyal clients and has restricted her earning capacity, despite being a similar health risk.
Typically, gyms in the F45 franchise have a capacity of 36 people per class but while Canberra gyms surge ahead to a 100-person capacity when following the four-square-metre rule, NSW gyms remain at a maximum of 20.
Pip said her popular morning and evening classes fill up quickly and her clients, forced onto waitlists, take their business to gyms in neighbouring suburbs.
“I don’t have a huge space, so I can’t run dual classes and 6am only happens once a day,” she said.
“I can’t guarantee my clients a place and quite rightly they get cranky and leave.”
Despite owning a business in Queanbeyan, Pip lives in Canberra, has a significant client base from the ACT and most of her clients work in Canberra.
“It just seems crazy, people go back and forth between the two places all the time,” Pip said.
Pip was 34 weeks pregnant when COVID forced her to entirely transform her business model and go online.
She said at the time what she really wanted to do was have a nap.
When her gym reopened, her newborn was only two weeks old.
“Maybe that’s why it feels so personal, it was time away from my baby and it makes me pretty angry.”
Pip said general gym operations have changed so much since reopening and are now focused on COVID-safe practices.
“How we operate is very different, there are different workouts and no touching or sharing equipment,” she said. “I can do that with more than 18 people.
“We know how our gyms work; we’re not going back to how it was done before. We know how to do it safely.”
While Canberra gyms are gearing up and Pip’s revenue is down, her costs are on the rise.
“I’m a bit stuffed when JobKeeper is over,” she said.
“I have normal franchise fees, normal rent, wages and babysitting.
“There’s no end in sight and it just gets you down.”
Pip reached out to the NSW Government for help but received no response. She has begun to coordinate with new federal member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain MP, who has been advocating for a “more localised” COVID-Safe plan for border towns.
Ms McBain said as Victorian numbers come down and the country moves into a more stable position, it was important to understand what a ‘COVID normal’ society looks like; especially for the border communities in Eden-Monaro.
“The advice of health experts needs to be central as we move ahead, and people, organisations and businesses around the Victorian and ACT borders need to be factored into those plans,” Ms McBain said.
“A border bubble between NSW and the ACT is one possibility.
“People like Pip could open her gym in a sensible COVID-safe way but operate on a more level playing field with gyms in the ACT.”
Ms McBain said she would raise the issue with the Cross-Border Commissioner with whom she has been meeting regularly.
“While we wait for a vaccine, we need a plan that supports people’s lives and jobs; one that reflects relationships like the one between NSW and the ACT and one that recognises the reality people see and feel.
“That is our best way of keeping people engaged and playing a positive role in the control of COVID-19 and managing the growing anxiety in the community.”
The COVID bump in Pip’s road has now steered her in a different career direction; she will soon return to teaching high school three days a week, whilst managing the gym and its administration.
“I just started to think, small businesses are so risky and you’re so vulnerable.
“I mean, first it was the bushfires and now this.
“Is it safer for me and my family to just get out?
“This is my dream.”