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Tennessee gym stays resilient after lockdown

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Small businesses have been the heart of economic America since before the nation was founded. Despite this, small businesses appear to have become the small pit in the financial stomach of economic America due to mandatory lockdown in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the initial surge of the pandemic, many small businesses were forced to temporarily close for safety reasons.

According to a survey conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, “43% of businesses had temporarily closed, and nearly all of these closures were due to COVID-19.”

The Great Body Company Wellness Center, a fitness gym and wellness center located in Kingsport, Tenn., was one of the many unfortunate small businesses that was forced to temporarily close its doors at the height of COVID-19.

“It has been very tough behind the scenes,” said Stan Johnson, owner of GBC Wellness Center. “We shut down for over six weeks except for one of our medical contracts.”

These contracts are deals that his business has made with the city of Kingsport. The “wellness center” aspect of the company refers to the physical therapy and other work that the gyms trainers do with the Kingsport city employees to make sure their aches and pains do not become too severe.

Johnson, while being the owner of the GBC Wellness Center, is also one of the trainers you can find working and helping people at the gym; he is a medical exercise specialist.

Growing up as the son of a bank teller and a machine worker in the small town of Elmwood, Ill., Johnson gained perspective on what hard work looks like, and says that his parents are the people who inspire him the most.

“They just went to work and always did whatever needed to be done,” Johnson said. “They didn’t complain about anything. They just saw what they had to do and did it because that was life. They didn’t believe in handouts, but they cared deeply.”

Johnson attended Northeast Missouri State University, which is now called Truman State University, where he ran for the school's cross-country team and received his bachelor's degree in exercise physiology. From there, he went on to receive his masters degree from the University of Tennessee.

While running cross-country in college, Johnson found his love for exercise physiology when his team was asked to do treadmill tests for one of his professors in the physiology lab. He enjoyed it so much that he began helping in the lab whenever possible and even helped author some research papers.

“I found testing athletes in the lab to be fascinating,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed seeing what could make athletes better through more advanced training and metrics.”

Johnson opened his gym not only as a place to work out, but as a place to help others from injuring themselves when possible.

However, Johnson and the GBC Wellness Center have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Certainly, the fitness side of the business is a continued challenge due to COVID and the fears associated with being around others that a fitness center requires,” Johnson said.

The medical-based wellness portion of the company is the main, driving force of Johnson’s business now. Johnson tries to make his members feel safe by having all his members and employees follow the face mask guidelines set by the state and city government.

He also has his employees thoroughly clean the facility multiple times daily.

However, Johnson understands the community’s fears and is making efforts to make them feel more comfortable by recording more group fitness classes now than ever before.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made Johnson critically more aware of his business’s budget and is still hopeful of the future.

“Our message of medical background and overall more attention to detail with regards to training and safety protocols will be an important aspect moving forward for business,” said Johnson.

Leona Forbes is the business manager at GBC. She manages all the general business operations of the gym excluding the medical based contracts of the wellness center. She looks to improve the struggles the gym is facing by improving the health and safety precautions being taken.

“We have always had a focus on improving the health of our members and not focusing on fitness and weight loss fads,” said Forbes.

The GBC Wellness Center, while running at just above half capacity, plans to be open for many years to come, which far less than others can say. According to a report by Yelp, nearly 60% of the businesses listed on the Yelp directory will not open back up after closing down due to Covid-19.


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