I remember Bytown 1.0, I unofficially opened October 2012 on Lebreton Street. Probably 750 square feet, it was currently being used as a storage garage for a place that tarred driveways. My wife at the time was pregnant, so there was no option to fail. We ran free classes for friends to help us figure out the structure and the layout. As well as giving us an opportunity to warm up my coaching skills in this environment. The space was an old garage, it was smelly despite everything we did, and the floors weren’t even straight. At the time rigs were only things giant gyms had, we had someone weld bars together and a couple portable squat stands that said they could handle 500 pounds, but even the thought of putting 225 on they would wobble like hell. There are still a few members left from this place. Your guys are the original gangsers. I still remember most of the members that joined then. Many of them were very influential to my coaching style. I refined it and developed in on these people.
We quickly outgrew that place. Luckily it was warm out and we had a big parking lot as we started having the classes. I liked the little space. It was cozy, it was mine, and it was modest. But I also wanted to help as many people as I could. Those who know me also know that I have a hard time saying no to help someone. So we needed a bigger place. Like fate had spoken to men a lady stopped by saying she had a industrial space in the area and was downsizing so had some space she could lease us. Sounded like a win-win. We checked out the space and it was great. Industrial but nicely cleaned up as the space was being used as a MMA gym and even had a cafe. We moved over to City Centre for Bytown 2.0. Things quickly went downhill. To sum it up nicely, the owner was bat$#1t crazy. Turns our we couldn’t even enter through our door, but had to go through her cafe, I guess in hopes we would buy from her, but the problem is she never had any food prepared. The music had to be child friendly, despite never seeing a client on her side of the space. I seriously wondered how she made any money as I was lucky so see a handful of clients. Turns out she was not paying her rent and trying to survive off what I was paying her. We had to get out fast. I worried that I would come in and the bailiff would have the doors locked, or worse. We got a lot bigger and really started to discover our identity there. I honestly don’t remember as much about the gym there as I should as my mind was mostly concerned everyday with dealing with my landlords crazyness.
We found a location a short walk away on Preston, Bytown 3.0. It needed massive renos. It was a former garage, but the owners must have taken baths in the motor oil as the place stunk of it and EVERYTHING was covered in oil stains. But it was a massive open space with concrete floors. The landlord was only giving us a 1 year lease as they had plans to eventually build condos there. We took the risk and in a period of a week with the help of the all our members and moved everything. The workout of the day was move equipment for weight. People showed up with trucks, people helped us load rentals, many people even made the 600m walk to carry equipment there. It was a fun time. It was like everyone was discovering the new gym at the same time. We didn’t have alot of notice or alot of money at the time so the renovations were limited. Because we were thinking this was more of a temporary place before we find our “forever home” we didn’t want to do that many renovations, just enough to get by. 3 years later, we realize we are going to be here for awhile. We stopped worrying, but kept searching for a perfect location. Hintonburg area is expensive compared to the industrial parks, and has limited industrial space. So we kept our real estate agent searching since day 1.
Claridge owns the building, they actually bought it from our Neighbour CompuCorp shortly before we moved in. They owned most of the block with plans on future major condo development. Even the Dollarama across the street was eventually going to be torn down. The building rep told us that it was a one year lease but they didn’t plan on building for years as they had many other projects to finish that take years. The Claridge Icon was one they were currently working on, but hadn’t even broken ground yet. Then they had another project after that before even thinking about our location. So we felt pretty safe. Because we were thinking this was more of a temporary place before we find our “forever home” we didn’t want to do that many renovations, just enough to get by. 3 years later, we realize we are going to be here for awhile. We stopped worrying, but kept searching for a perfect location. Hintonburg area is expensive compared to the industrial parks, and has limited industrial space. So we kept our real estate agent searching since day 1. I never really stopped worrying about what could happen. Always thinking in the back of my mind what all the possible outcomes that could happen if they decided to not renew our lease. Eventually I mostly forgot about the looming threat of no lease renewal.
Some of my best memories are from 3.0, not just because we were there the longest, but this is where the community really developed. My weird personality blended with just the right people. Members rose through the ranks and started helping out and coaching. We grew from a hardcore competitive gym to one of laid back fun. Being able to have a laugh during a workout, and wanting to go out and actually do normal things with other members of the gym instead of trying to take handstand photos in the most obscene places.
2020 was a challenging year. This was the year we were making our plan to make a decision to find a new place. We were tired of looking and tired of worrying about “what ifs”. We had looked at many buildings over the years are realized there is no perfect building or location. So we had to find the best we could and do the best with it. I wanted to stay local as I would feel as if I let down our community if I went out somewhere else. Then covid hit. I remember the day we decided to close. I had no intentions of closing as I was under the impression if we be safe and responsible it would be no worse than flue season or the first couple weeks of school. I had gym owners from all over the city reaching out saying they are closing and urging us to as well. We bounced back and forth alot. We wanted to not cause panic, wanted to keep everyone moving and healthy, but also didn’t want to make the wrong decision. What if its worse than we thought and I am responsible for hurting these people. 2 days later the decision was taken away from us anyway. The Ontario government shut us down of fear of mass infections crippling the medical system.
We stayed home. A lot. Too much. On the Myers-Briggs I am an INTJ with something like 90% introvert. I always said I could live alone in a cabin in the forest. Or so I thought. I thought a couple emails and texts to clients and everyone would be great. After less than a week I started missing people, seeing them, talking to them, watching them move. I am pretty self aware, so I realize that if me, the 90% introvert is missing people, I could just imagine what all the social butterflies must be feeling right now. Realizing this was a long term thing we decided to make a change. Nobody new how long this was going to last and what to do, but we new its gonna be more than the week or two we originally thought. We decided to lend out equipment. We did that every lockdown. In hopes that members would continue supporting us. Because in all honesty, we couldn’t survive if people just quit. People did leave, but people also stuck around. We tried everything to keep people moving. Distance programming if you had a gym at home, zoom personal training, zoom classes to you can see your friends sweat alongside you, at home workouts with minimal equipment and maximal fitness. Ill tell you some things we learned. Trying not to over program repetitive movements such as burpees is insanely hard. Taylor did an incredible job. His creativity when programming never ceases to amaze me. Myself, its direct, dry, and repetitive.
When we first reopened I was super excited thinking that this could all be over, sanity and safety have returned. Unfortunately it didn’t last. Locked down again. I trained with my cohort in the park near my house. I had next to no equipment as I had lent out EVERYTHING. The gym was empty, I had even lent out all my personal equipment I had at home. I had a broken 45 olympic plate, a bunch of broken bands that I tried together, an axle, 2 leaking sandbags covered in duct tape, and my imagination. I used it as an opportunity to get creative. I found unique ways to stimulate everything I wanted with light weight based on tempo, rep schemes, constraints, isometric hold, etc. I got to spend some time just concentrating as a coach and not as much as a business owner. It was nice for a time. Then came the bills.
Money was still coming in, but not nearly as much as usually. Plus our expenses were going up, we were running more classes so having to pay more staff, besides the mandatory expenses for cleaning and PPE supplies, as well as us doing renovations to help clean up and liven up the place. We took the first lockdown with the help of some key members to overhaul 3.0. It was hard, sometimes it took weeks to get even a part ordered for a sink as stores were mostly closed. I remember having to pick up paint by appointment as the guy came in to the store just to mix my paint as he had been closed for days. There was lots of talk about government help. It was confusing. We applied to all that we could find. Unfortunately most of them had weird restrictions that we didn’t qualify for. Turns out we weren’t the only business that didn’t qualify for most support. It was a tough and worrysome couple of months. When we were able to reopen after the first lockdown there was talk about government help. More support, grants, and loans, as well rent relief the tenant himself could apply for. We applied for the rent relief, again there was some exaggeration of how much of a discount we would get. It sounded like we would only have to pay 25% of rent. But that if if you were forced close and had also had a 70% reduction in income. I don’t know how any service based business would still be running if it suffered a 70% reduction in income. Speaking of income, that was part of the problem. All the government grants were to help with small business expenses, nothing about the hit to their income. From restrictions or fear of the industry which was lead by the media, many places suffered huge hits to their income. Some industries would be permanently eliminated.
In the end, other than some rent relief, we didn’t get any help. But just because I couldn’t get any help, doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to try to help. I thought it was unfair that our industry was being labeled as injurious. I could see the impact it was having on my members, both physically and mentally. I had people break down in tears on me, talking people off the ledge, people who had gained so much weight that they were ashamed to come back. Sure, some were doing great, some even thrived. But many didn’t. People were hurting.
I gathered with several different gym owners and starting about what we could do. Many small groups formed. Some just complaining, others offering solutions. I got ideas and involvement with both. I managed to talk to lobbyist, MPs, MPPs, our own Dr. Etches, as well as multiple radio and tv interviews. I heard alot of support as well as criticism for my views, some even from my family. Despite all the talking, the petitions, the social media advocacy, even the protests. Nothing has helped. The only changes they have made to gyms and fitness is now in the newly updated grey zone you can’t even workout with a friend in the park.
My leg had really been bothering me during this last lockdown. It was grinding a ton as well as it was bowed out so far that it was causing significant pain in other joints. I decided to book surgery to finally get my total knee replacement. I was thinking with all the delays in surgeries it would be a very long wait. To my surprise they told me that because I am young and can do it as a day surgery I could get it done next month. Perfect, I had nothing physical to do in lockdown anyway so I could use this as an opportunity to take advantage of the stay at home order. My surgery was booked for Feb 12th. I was preparing for surgery doing lots of pre-hab on my leg. As the date approached we got an announcement that on Feb 15th we can reopen. Yay we can reopen! Nay, im bedridden for 2 weeks in a boatload of pain. Pain so bad that I couldn’t think clearly.
I was thankful for my wife, Bytown Coaches, and even Bytown members for stepping up and getting all the equipment back so we could reopen on just a few days notice. I concentrated on my recovery. I rushed back to work after my first surgery in 2006 and ran into alot of problems with my recovery because I didn’t take it slow. This time I listened to every word of the doctor. When he said I could stand, I stood, when he said to start physio I did, when he said to load the movements, I did. It was a hard path but the next 3 months I was going to work less and concentrate on my recovery. I had big goals of trying to see every last bit of mobility and strength I could get out of this new knee.
When we could reopen everyone looking good. It seems that people got used to quarantine life and people figured out how to stay busy. This re-openign wasn’t our first rodeo. Coaches and members quickly fell back into a good groove I could finally relax and enjoy the process a little. Things at the gym were going great. Everyone was happy to be back, saw alot of familiar faces, alot of new ones. Seeing people who have never really workout before in their lives want to make a healthy change. It was great. I was feeling like the dark had lifted as the days got longer as we rolled into summer.
Then on February 28th, the last day of the month, my wife gets an email, and I quickly get a panicked call. “They are evicting us, we have 90 days” My heart sank, I knew this day was coming, I just hoped it never did. This couldn’t be true. It must be a mistake. We’ve paid our rent, we did the right thing. Whats wrong? Turns out our landlord wants to cash in on the housing market and break ground so they can sell overpriced condos more overpriced. Talked to some lawyers, it was pretty much a universal answer. We could try to fight it, but they have the best lawyers in town and deep pockets. So we decided to put all the ideas in my head onto paper. We racked our brain for days trying to decide what to do. Its not just about me being able to pay the bills at home, I have staff that have families to support, a community that I would feel I had failed if I closed down, friends that I would truly miss seeing. I might not smile much, but I’m truly loving every minute I get to be in that gym. In the early days my wife would have to call me to come home. Eventually it evolved into me promising to be home by supper every night. Eventually she trained me well enough to balance home life and work life. But I really love the work life.
We came up with the plan. Building a gym we always wanted. A nice gym, in a nice area, that looks clean and modern. Something I can be proud of. More importantly, as I have very simple taste, something my wife can be proud of. We get to design the space we want, with the current Covid strategies in mind, while also polling our members and building exactly what they want and need as well. Its a horrible time to be doing any moving or renovations, but the team we have built at Bytown I am confident we will make this transition to Bytown 4.0