Two men who co-own a South Jersey gym that closed under coronavirus shutdown orders say they plan to open Monday – whether the state allows it or not.
Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, Camden County, has been closed since March, owner Ian Smith told NBC10 Thursday.
“It’s do or die for us. Our business is essentially being strangled to death,” he said in a phone interview.
The business opened June 1 last year, but coming up on its first anniversary, the situation is dire with no membership fees collected during the closure and small business loans coming up short.
Smith and co-owner Frank Trumbetti sounded off on their reopening plan on their Facebook page this week, and soon Smith was on national TV with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Smith repeated to Carlson what he said on Facebook Monday, that the business plans to reopen next week. A reporter asked Gov. Phil Murphy about that during his news conference Thursday.
“The gym owner is out of compliance. I don’t know. I’ve heard about this person...they’re out of compliance. And that’s not going to be tolerated,” Murphy said, before mentioning chief legal counsel Matt Platkin and Col. Patrick Callahan, head of the State Police.
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“And they’ll deal with that from there,” Murphy said. He did not reference any specific action that might be taken.
When read the quote from the governor later on Thursday, Smith said it’s not going to change his plan.
“You’re going to make criminals out of people who are just trying to feed their families? If somebody needs to turn me into a criminal for something my partner and I believe is right...we stand by our decisions and are prepared to make a stand.”
“We put our life into this gym,” Smith said. And owners have had trouble getting what they needed from small business loan programs.
“The money ran out almost immediately...you spend time trying to figure out which loan and there’s like eight different loans...you get to the end of the process and it says ‘Sorry there’s no money again, you’re in queue for the next round of funding.’”
“As far as unemployment goes it’s essentially the same. The so-called relief is laughable.”
Smith said one business owner he knows has a quarterly payroll of $32,000, and received a loan for under $900.
In a nearly 30-minute conversation that covered the current financial situation and several times mentioned constitutional rights like the 14th Amendment, Smith was sharply critical of the current economic situation. He mentioned stores owned by large corporations are open if they provide essential goods while several small businesses remain closed.
And officials have said that it’s safe to go out with proper precautions like wearing a mask, keeping your hands clean and maintaining social distance, Smith pointed out.
“If you can walk into Walmart with a relatively low chance of endangering yourself...you can walk into a gym,” he said.
Stay-at-home orders are designed to limit the number of interactions people have with others to prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical experts and government leaders say. The more places people visit, the more interactions they have and along with it comes a higher risk of contracting and spreading the disease.
Plan for Reopening
In preparation, Smith and Trumbetti bought gallons of hand sanitizer, spending more than $1,000, he claimed. They spaced out all the machines and equipment so they’re more than six feet apart – having already sold a few machines to stay afloat, Smith added.
They plan to operate at less than 20% capacity, giving visitors their own spray bottle of disinfectant when they come in, to spray and wipe each piece of equipment before and after use.
They’re also removing all hard-to-clean surfaces including cloth towels, yoga mats and ropes.
With Trumbetti’s mother currently hospitalized for the virus – which was mentioned in a Facebook update – Smith says they’re taking the virus seriously and need to. But at the same time, delaying a reopening any longer is going to have serious effects. Other business owners he knows have had to shut down permanently or lay off staff.
Between the two extremes of reopening with no precaution, versus a total lockdown, “There has to be a common ground. We can be active, we can be healthy, we can take caution to protect public health and adhere to these principles and at the same time we can resume normalcy,” Smith said.