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'It's heartbreaking': Spokane tennis club forced to lay off entire staff

After months of being closed, Spokane Racquet Club couldn't afford to keep staff with urgent repairs.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash — A tennis club is happy to be open on Monday, but it is a long way from being back to normal. 

After months of being closed, Spokane Racquet Club members are back hitting the courts, but they didn't know they would have to bundle up to break a sweat.

Some indoor recreation and fitness centers can open under phase one guidelines. This means dance academies, rock gyms, and fitness centers can host low risk sports practice and training, as long as there are no more five people in a group. Masks are required and reservations must be made ahead of time.

The temperature of the tennis courts is 36 degrees. The almost-freezing club is full of eager members just happy to let off some steam. 

"It's kind of like the silver lining story of bad things come in threes," SRC board member Luke Zitterkopf said. "That was kind of our third bad thing happening."

The club had a devastating 2020, regardless of the pandemic and the shutdowns. 

Zitterkopf said first a car crashed into the side of the building. Then, the pool system needed numerous repairs. Now, the heater has broke. These renovations are pricey. 

With the pandemic, some members are having to choose between rent and a sporting club, and rent wins every time.

"But, during the shutdown time, I think that's been the hardest for us on record as far as how many people have been forced to leave," he added. "Partly because of job losses, where they don't feel safe to continue to promise to pay to be a member here." 

Cancelling memberships leads to a trickle effect. Once someone stops paying, the club no longer has money. When the club doesn't have money, they can't pay their repairs. When they can't pay their repairs, people start to cancel their memberships.

Club manager Kay Menzies says 66% of the heater costs over $65,000, which is money they don't have.

Not only that, but they qualified for Paycheck Protection Program assistance in the spring. Now, the bank is calling them and asking for around $50,000 back.

Menzies doesn't know where the club will get the money.

"That's why the staff are laid off at this point," she said. "It is just volunteers trying to keep the club going because we needed the money."

Every single employee has been laid off, with the exception of Menzies moving down to part-time. 

"There was a choice that had to be made," she said. "Installing a heater or continuing with staff. It's heartbreaking."

They are staying positive, despite what looks like an uphill battle. Now that they are legally allowed to be open, they are hoping new players will join their team. They offer membership programs for all ages. 

"So although the cost is substantial, we feel like it will pay off in the long run," Zitterkopf  said. "Membership will be more comfortable."

The heater they are getting is a forced-air conditioner that will have an air-filtration system on it, they said. That will help with COVID-19 since it will circulate the air, they added.

The heater should be installed in early February, so members will be able to workout without their winter clothes soon.