Mike Foley, right, started Foley’s Fitness in Scarborough on Dec. 1 and had 3,000 members and 39 employees by mid-March. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and state officials ordered non-essential businesses, including fitness centers, to close until at least the end of April. He is pictured with his business partner, Joe Doherty, on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

After decades of working as a nutritionist, Mike Foley wanted to open his own fitness center.

That dream came to fruition on Dec. 1, when the 52-year-old Old Orchard Beach resident opened Foley’s Fitness, a $6 million, 28,000-square-foot gym in Scarborough that was five years in the making. By March, he said, the center had 3,000 members and 39 employees.

Then the coronavirus outbreak hit, and state officials ordered non-essential businesses, including fitness centers, to close until at least the end of April. About half of Foley’s customers have suspended or canceled their memberships.

But Foley’s and other fitness centers and other membership businesses are asking members to continue paying their membership fees while their doors are closed, while also allowing members to freeze or cancel memberships.

Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a written statement that the public health crisis has made it difficult for customers and business to fulfill the terms of contracts. He urged both sides to communicate about the future of those contracts.

“If a dispute arises about how to proceed, parties should look to the terms of their contract for answers,” Frey said. “In the event that parties still do not agree how to move forward, they would have to resolve their contractual dispute through a court action or alternative dispute resolution procedures, such as mediation.”

Planet Fitness proactively froze membership fees for all of its customers, who will not be charged for any days the gym is closed, though some accounts may need to be adjusted when the gyms reopen. Annual memberships will be extended. The national chain is also offering workouts through its app, Facebook and YouTube.

The YMCA, meanwhile, has launched a national “Stay With Us” campaign, asking its members to continue paying membership fees during its closure.

“Whether you’re connected to the Y today or have a fond Y memory from years past, you’re part of our family – and we need you to stay with us,” the nonprofit says on its website.

The YMCA of Southern Maine says it’s trying to offer online classes, including English classes for new Mainers, while checking in by phone with its nearly 2,400 older members to offer support. It continues to serve 88 men in transitional housing.

“Your membership is so important because it enables us to keep doing this important work for our community,” said Helen L Breña, president and CEO of the YMCA of Southern Maine.

Messages left at three local Curve fitness centers were not returned Wednesday.

Foley Fitness sent an email thanking members for continuing to pay fees during the shutdown, while acknowledging that not everyone was in a position to do so. The email was sent March 26, said Joe Doherty, Foley’s business partner.

Foley said about half his members have continued to pay their fees.

Foley said he continues to pay his 39 employees during the shutdown, but he doesn’t know how long he can keep doing that.

“It’s been really tough on us,” Foley said. “We have built a very good staff, and I want to keep them.” 

He is seeking funding through the federal CARES Act, which includes forgivable loans to help businesses with under 500 employees maintain payroll. He’s also working with his lender, Bangor Savings Bank.

Despite the sudden change in fortune, Foley is optimistic.

“I really don’t think I’m being overly positive,” he said. “I feel like at the end of the day people are going to have to take all areas of their health more seriously.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: