Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

I’m not saying I forecast the pandemic last year. But I did overrule the complaints of my near-perfect wife, playing the packrat and cluttering our garage with my mother’s old Nordic Track machine and a neighbor’s discarded stationary bicycle.

Hence I’m able to perform morning exercise without venturing out for risky playdates with the tiny Covid monster. The question: do I retain my decade-old membership in my Ballston gym?

I’m attached to the staff and fellow members of Onelife Fitness, which renamed its Sport and Health branch in 2018. As a reward for sticking with them during the five-year messy reconstruction of Ballston Quarter, I was given a nice monthly rate. Their fine staff and fellow members I’ve befriended helped me stay in shape and be rewarded by a mellowing steam bath.

But I haven’t set foot there since February. My decision to continue paying dues is but one example of uncertain habits in our current era.

Since reopening in June under the governor’s guidelines, the club has implemented major protocols for disinfecting and social distancing.

“Onelife requires masks upon entry and upon departure, and it’s the member’s choice to wear one on the gym floor,” says still-active member Mark Stoffel. He estimated about half of members wear them on the floor.

“Members are never more than about 10 feet from a sanitation station consisting of sanitizing spray, paper towels, and a disposal bin. I have never seen the place so clean.”

Similar requirements are in place at Gold’s Gym locations in Ballston, South Arlington and Rosslyn.

“We believe in medicine, and a lot of people really need fitness in life, for mental health and for their immune system,” said Eva Everett, director of communication and experience. “So we make sure we do all that is possible to keep members safe.”

It took time to block off and separate weight machines and reschedule classes to cap enrollment, she added. Though Virginia policy makes masks voluntary, Gold’s Gym initially rolled out a requirement, but enforcement became impractical. “We would be tracking people the whole time they’re working out.”

Gold’s understands why some members don’t want to come in and why some have taken advantage of freezing dues for a year, Everett said.

“There’s no getting around that the fitness industry has been hit hard. But members will one day return,” and through some consolidations of branches (including an ill-timed expansion just last March), “we are in decent shape.”

At Planet Fitness, which this month moved its location at the Eden Center to a former Gold’s Gym in Falls Church, facemasks are “required at all times, and staff get their temperatures checked every day,” said general manager Erick Pierola. Hands are washed every five minutes, staff sign forms declaring they have not experienced shortness of breath or fever, and sanitation supply stations are constantly refilled.

Because it had to close for a few months, Planet Fitness froze all memberships. “We didn’t want to charge people when they’re not using it, and our numbers did go down significantly,” Pierola said. “But little by little, people are getting more encouraged to come when they see how well we’ve cleaned,” which itself attracts new members.

I just struck a deal with Onelife for a dues freeze until January. Whatever I decide, it won’t be just my own budget to consider.


Before kindergarten became a must in Arlington Public Schools in the early 1960s, that program was provided by churches (like Mount Olivet Methodist, which I attended in 1958) and private entrepreneurs.

Nonogenarian Virginia Dodge recently reported that she attended a pioneering pre-school and kindergarten from 1930 to 1932 at the Maywood home of her teacher, Eleanor Locking. That house today at 3405 21st Ave. is owned by realtor Renee Fisher, who enjoys recalling that history.

Among those leaders who in the 1950s pushed for public kindergarten in Arlington was WETA founder Elizabeth Campbell.