Uma Bista/The New York Times

Local Ithaca gyms are gaining membership from university students as Cornell continues holding restrictions over campus fitness centers.

April 8, 2021

Off-Campus Gyms Report Increases in Student Memberships Amid Restricted Campus Operations

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With shortened hours and limited capacity, Cornell’s gyms and their restricted campus operations have driven students off campus to lift weights and work out. 

Cornell gyms reopened in the fall after being closed since March 2020, but the strict guidelines have meant that some students traded in their Cornell fitness center memberships in favor of local Ithaca facilities.

The main difference between on campus and local gyms is the availability and access. Currently, students are limited to three scheduled 50-minute time slots per week in on-campus gyms. Further, for the first month of the semester, the on-campus facilities were closed entirely, causing the dedicated gym rats and new year’s resolution commits to seek other places to exercise.

According to Terry Ciaschi, owner of Island Health & Fitness located in central Ithaca, students have been a significant portion of visitors since his facility’s reopening in September. Ciaschi estimated that these students currently make up around 20 percent of the members at his gym. 

“They follow the rules, they do the right thing, it shows well for the student population in town that they are following the rules,” Ciaschi said. 

He also noted that the older members have been much more hesitant to return to the facility, so these students help provide much needed revenue. These challenges are not unique to Island Health, but represent a broader trend for local gyms. 

Like Ciaschi, Dan Stehm, the owner of Finger Lakes Fitness Center, has seen a noticeable increase in student members at his gym — from both Cornell and Ithaca College. 

While Cornell facilities were closed over the summer, Michael Seitz ’22 made the switch to The Gym Ithaca, a facility two miles from campus. While not an option for all students due to being off-campus, Seitz appreciated the opportunity to continue his workout routine, a major stress reliever for him.

Ravi Krishnan ’22, described a similar rationale for deciding to join an off-campus gym, citing his need for an active lifestyle. 

“It started out of necessity, most of us in our apartment like to lead an active lifestyle, so it was an important decision to make,” said Ravi Krishnan ’22 about joining his off-campus gym. 

Most of the gyms are still taking strong precautions to reduce transmission and keep patrons safe, including strict mask policies, increased sanitization and distanced equipment, according to Seitz and Krishnan. 

However, some students — like Brady Sites ’23, who decided to join Planet Fitness at the beginning of the spring semester when campus fitness centers were still closed — think that the facilities could still be doing more. 

“It’s very important to me that I am working out and being healthy and [I] didn’t want to wait to have to go to the gym,” Sites said. “[But] there have been times when I go in and think, ‘Wow, this does not feel safe’ even though everybody’s wearing a mask and it’s totally within their capacity.” 

According to Sites, one of the main things keeping him from returning to on-campus gyms are these fifty-minute time limits on visits, even though sometimes the capacity limits at Planet Fitness concern him. 

“If I could stay in the gym for longer, that alone could sway me to come back to the on campus gyms,” Sites said.