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Fitness studio in Portland temporarily suspends operations because customers aren't coming back

Lack of foot traffic and high rent prices are causing the Barre3 location in the Pearl District to reconsider its next business move.

PORTLAND, Ore. — For Sadie Lincoln, keeping her Pearl District fitness studio open would be a stretch.

Barre3, the Portland-based brand where Lincoln is chief executive, informed clients by email that the studio, located at 1000 Northwest Marshall Street, would pause operations starting Oct. 7. Lincoln, who owns the Pearl location, will await a resurgence of foot traffic and for her landlord to cut her a break on rent before she resumes teaching at the flagship location.

The Barre3 dilemma reflects continued unease felt by local employers as they make tough choices about whether to do business in Portland proper. Kassab Jewelers, at 529 Southwest Broadway, reopened earlier this year after being looted in 2020, but it is still not certain if it will remain in place past next March. Others are moving outside Portland city limits.

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Lincoln co-founded Barre3 in 2008. It's grown into a sprawling enterprise with nearly 200 branded locations across the world, from Canada to the Philippines to Japan. Many are franchise studios owned by other women.

Opening the Pearl location was a risk back in 2008 because even then, the real estate cost a lot, she said.

"The genesis of our success was right here in the Pearl, and since then, our space has increased 40%," Lincoln said, noting the landlord is out of state. "They have not adjusted for the times, and foot traffic is at an all-time low."

The Pearl District choice came down to "basic math."

"We needed to suspend operations until foot traffic's up, and hopefully we can negotiate our lease down," Lincoln said. She added later: "We are going to monitor local business here in the Pearl (and) foot traffic very closely, and we are also going to continue to put pressure on our lease management company to see if we can adjust our rates to be more proportionate to this era. This is the most expensive rent in our entire portfolio, and yet the lowest foot traffic."

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Many clients have been coming for 14 years, though newer customers have arrived, she said. Moms make up a good portion of her client base.

"Moms are tired. They've got little kids at home. They've been homeschooling. A lot of them (are) holding down a job and just pretty exhausted, a little slower to come back to the studios," she said, "but they're definitely coming back, especially in the more suburban areas. The Pearl studio being more urban, I think it's just been a little bit of a slower comeback."

The exercise industry more broadly has tried to endure the pandemic's hills and valleys. Home workouts became popular as gyms closed. But fortunes have been mixed. After the company reported faltering sales in August, the board of Vancouver-headquartered Nautilus Inc. this week said the company had initiated a review that could end in the fitness company's sale.

Barre3 has an online streaming business, but Lincoln said studios form the foundation of her company's success.

"We're all in the room together: 25 of us with music, getting strong together," she said.

Still, people are apprehensive and worn-down from COVID-19, she said, and they might not come to sessions with as much regularity or at the same times as they once did.

"People's schedules are so different. They're working from home now, instead of going to work. So, they don't necessarily need to come in at 6 a.m. or at their lunch break," she said. "For the first time ever, they can work out at 10 a.m., and so we're seeing erratic behavior in terms of times when people come. That's changed."

Other Portland-area locations remain open, according to the email to customers. Lincoln urged customers to try them out.

"They are all beautiful."

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