As NJ gyms reopen, ‘We’re still screwed’ Atilis co-owner says
BELLMAWR — Amid Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement that gyms in New Jersey can reopen with restrictions next week, one defiant gym's legal battle with authorities is far from over.
“We’re still screwed,” Ian Smith, co-owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, said to New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday.
In addition to recently losing their business license, Smith and co-owner Frank Trumbetti now are faced with more than $300,000 in accumulating fines under a court order handed down Aug. 18. That order approved a daily $15,000 fine for reopening against state emergency directives during the pandemic dating back to May.
Smith said the announcement on gyms reopening Sept. 1 was to be expected.
“We called this very early on that gyms would be held out for as long as possible, you know," Smith said, adding the governor had faced mounting political pressure, including from outside the state with gyms in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware all already reopened.
Smith said protocols detailed Wednesday by Murphy for gyms reopening at 25% reduced capacity are “laughable” compared to self-imposed protocols the Bellmawr gym has implemented since opening against the state’s directives.
Detailed precautions shared by the governor include the reduced capacity, mask wearing inside gyms, spacing equipment 6 feet apart and social distancing in fitness classes.
The gym has been taking temperature checks at the door, in addition to running a UV air scrubber and handing out personal bottles of disinfectant for equipment, Smith said.
“We’ve gone so far above and beyond to keep our people safe and our evidence shows that. We’re over 29,000 visits since we reopened, and not a single case of COVID has been reported,” Smith said.
Last week, it was announced that the gym had become an official campaign site for U.S. Senate candidate Rik Mehta, a Republican facing Democratic incumbent Cory Booker in November.
Smith and Trumbetti were named to the campaign finance committee and their gym would be holding daily political rallies.
Smith previously said the move was "not about affiliation to a political party. This is about supporting somebody who has strongly supported small businesses and strongly supports the protection of our constitutional rights."
Murphy's executive orders restricting gatherings do make exceptions for certain political and religious activities.
The gym's business license was revoked two weeks ago, after a vote by the Bellmawr Borough Council. Smith said they will be suing each council member to get the license back and suing for damages, as well.
Smith said he believed the council vote was a move made under pressure from the governor’s office.
A spokesperson for the governor declined to comment.
When asked about any speculation that Murphy waited so long to reopen gyms in reaction to the Bellmawr gym’s flagrant actions, Smith said if the governor did act out of personal reasons then “having a beef with myself and Frank is misplaced hostility — you should be looking at the individual who’s abusing their power, not the person who’s standing up to them.”
He said he was planning to talk with his attorney Wednesday about what the state's reopening announcement might mean for the Bellmawr gym and its various circumstances.
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