Philly Rising: Persistence, focus on wellness help innovative gym succeed through pandemic

Philly Rising: Paris Fitness owner celebrates anniversary during pandemic
Philly Rising: Paris Fitness owner celebrates anniversary during pandemic Photo credit Noel Davis
By KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Archaeologist and fitness trainer Noel Davis opened her new gym, Paris Fit, in Old City around this time last year.

“Everybody loved it," Davis says. "It’s a pink gym. It was a safe space for women in the community. It was brand new, it was fresh, it was vibrant. We had yoga, zumba, barre, even senior classes."

We know what happened next.

As COVID-19 cases in the city were on the rise, officials stepped in with restrictions ordering gyms to close. That was only about two months after the grand opening of Paris Fit studios.

"We had to shut down the studio March 17, 2020. It was the most traumatic experience ever. I didn't know what was going to happen. I remember sitting outside of the studio, looking at it, saying, 'I don't know what I'm going to do. I don’t think I'm going to be able to keep this gym,'" Davis said.

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Paris Fit was inspired by Davis' experience rehabilitating her own body after a traffic accident caused nerve damage in her legs and chronic pain. Her mission has been to help clients cope with their ailments through core muscle work and physical fitness. And her gym offered jobs to young people to keep them off the street.

Like many other gym owners, Davis tried to go virtual, but offering fitness classes online was not an immediate fix. Things got harder before they got better.

"It was very difficult at first. People were cancelling their memberships, because they didn't know when we were going to open. There wasn't really a guide on how to be a gym owner throughout a pandemic," she said.

Davis has used her archaeological expertise in bones to strengthen and rehabilitate seniors near 100 years old. And as it turns out, she has a knack for digging her way through hard times.

"I have constantly revamped my virtual schedule to see what works and what doesn’t work," she said.

Through trial and error, she figured out how to keep her studio profitable, using innovative methods in addition to her virtual classes.

"A lot of times, my clients would say they don’t have the proper equipment for at-home workouts," Davis said.

She saw that as an opportunity to bring to life an idea she had from years ago.

"Gym in a box has everything in it that you need for an at-home complete workout: resistance bands, jump ropes, a fitness timer, fitness sliders -- literally everything that you need,” she said.

She says she has also found success in partnerships with larger brands, such as Under Armour and Oxygen Magazine. She has also partnered with community organizations to host virtual fitness events to groups.

"Virtual speaking, virtual learning, virtual teaching -- you're able to connect with people you were never able to connect with before. It’s a great way to connect with people all over the world,” she said.

Although her big plans for her first year as a small-business owner may not have panned out exactly like she envisioned, Davis says she’s thankful for the challenges that have also given her an opportunity to reach more people than ever before.

"I have so many clients saying 'I made it through the pandemic because of you. I made it through because of Paris Fit,'" she said. "I'm so appreciative to have people be able to say that."

Her advice to other small-business owners struggling through the pandemic is to keep fighting.

"Don't stop trying. Figure out new ways you can reach out to the community. Reach out to the community leaders," she said. "We all need wellness, especially during this time. Consistently push people to the right nutrition, because we know when we eat right, our bodies are better.”

Although state health officials have lifted the most recent restrictions for gyms and allowed them to reopen, Davis says she still plans to resume with mostly virtual classes and one-on-one training for the time being.