In summary

The spaces of indoor climbing centers are more akin to shopping malls than your local gym, so why is the government shutting them down?

By Kristin Tara Horowitz, Special to CalMatters

Kristin Tara Horowitz is CEO of Pad Climbing + Ascent Ventures, kristin@ciccoalition.org.

We’re closed for a third time. And, for a second time, my industry has been lumped into “fitness centers” despite some unique qualities that should enable the almost-100 locations in California to be able to operate safely even under the state’s “purple tier.”

This niche industry is indoor climbing centers. Twenty years ago, it was a very weird and audacious thing to bring this kind of outdoor sport inside; it was expensive and uncharted territory. Now it’s a massively growing industry, or was – until the government shut everything down. 

And initially, we supported it. 

We’ve done everything right through the COVID-19 pandemic. By our very nature, the biggest concerns of spreading the virus are built into our culture: climbers stay with their partners, they keep at least 6 feet away from others because they don’t want to get fallen on or encroach on others’ experiences. It’s not a heavy breathing activity – masked climbing is no big deal. 

We have built in contact tracing in our reservation systems. Our staff is specifically hired and trained to assess safety and risk, our patrons are committed to safety and conscientiousness of others, or nobody wants to climb with them. The spaces we occupy are huge – we’re more akin to shopping malls than your local sweatbox gym. 

Then there’s the chalk. We use it to sop up our sweaty palms prior to climbing; we leave it behind on the holds and in the air as we apply it – it settles on everything. And, about-to-be published studies show its properties neutralize the virus. It’s also why we have robust air moving systems and easy-to-clean surfaces.

The hitch for us is our classification. Those walls that everyone enjoys can’t be moved outside like fitness equipment can under purple tier. The “outside” compromise simply does not work for us. So tell me again why those shopping malls I mentioned earlier can remain open while we get shut down?

We’re not looking to sue anyone. We’re not looking for handouts. And we’re fighting against the impulse of every business owner out there who wants to defy the government orders. We know we’re safe. We have had zero spread or cases reported in any of our locations. We follow every protocol offered. At this point, it’s pretty hard to say, “But government knows best.” Especially in locations like mine where enforcement isn’t happening. Every day I watch my next door neighbor open against regulations, but I am trying to do the right thing. But is it the right thing?

Our shutdown affects tens of thousands of people in California, and we’re about to put more people back into the unemployment system. We can’t pay our property taxes because we’ve not generated enough revenue to cover them. When we go under, and we probably will, those potholes we were paying to fill will go unfilled.

We just want some attention to our plight because we’re losing faith in the government. Checking the  COVID-19 numbers every day, checking the websites every week – and then, BLAMMO – we feel like pitiful Charlie Brown when government Lucy just moved the football. Good grief.

GO-Biz and the Department of Public Health have organized meetings for us. We’ve presented them with scientists who back us up, doctors who back us, studies that back us, and then nothing. Is it simply wasting everyone’s time? I’m sure they have other things they could be doing. Let us know there’s no avenue to staying open, and I’ll go out of business with a roar.

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