Gym Owner Says Front Doors Will Come Off if NJ Gets Court Order
BELLMAWR — The legal battle between state officials and a township gym that has defiantly opened its doors against New Jersey's pandemic restrictions has reached another round, as the state has asked a judge to issue a new court order and lock the owners out, again.
"We're on day 125 at this point — how 2 weeks turned into 125 days where I'm not allowed to provide for my family is beyond me," Ian Smith, co-owner of Atilis Gym Bellmawr, said Sunday to the Townsquare News Network.
According to a court filing by the state Friday, Camden County health officials said that during an on-site inspection Wednesday, there were about 40 people working out inside Atilis Gym, in violation of state directives first issued in March to stem the spread of COVID-19.
The county health officials also said the gym's other co-owner, Frank Trumbetti, told them about "348 people" had passed through that day alone, in total.
Smith said they have been operating inside for "two weeks now," since deciding July 4 to resume indoor workouts using self-written health protocols they debuted in May for a short-lived, 5-day reopening.
He said the gym has been offering first-come, first-served availability to members with a limited 20% gym capacity. According to Smith, full gym occupancy is about 280 people.
Smith and Trumbetti were locked out of the property under a May court order for state health violations amid the pandemic.
They regained access to the gym in mid-June, under an amended court order that allowed Trumbetti and Smith inside for the sole purpose of being able to run both Rockbottom Nutrition and Atilis Retail Clothing, listed in court papers as separate businesses of theirs.
Smith said a hearing was set for Monday, July 20, on the state's request to have them found in contempt of that amended court order.
Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order June 26, which allowed the use of gym and fitness center indoor spaces for personal training sessions, by appointment only. The order also said gyms and fitness centers still “cannot yet open their indoor premises to the public” beyond such sessions.
According to the state's "motion for contempt," the Wednesday health inspection was in response to complaints that Atilis Gym had not been complying with that executive order on gyms.
During the visit, there was a “constant stream” of gym members entering and leaving the facility, the county health officials said. The health inspection report said employees were not given masks or gloves, and there appeared to be a lack of social distancing.
The gym's self-imposed health guidelines include temperature checks upon arrival, Smith said, in addition to each person being given an individual bottle of surface cleaning solution to use on gym equipment and a UV air scrubbing machine that runs inside the gym, constantly.
Smith and Trumbetti did file a federal lawsuit against Murphy and his administration for what the business called "unconstitutional restrictions during the pandemic."
On June 19, a federal judge denied a temporary restraining order sought by the co-owners against the governor and state officials.
Smith pointed to the restricted reopening of indoor recreation businesses including martial arts, dance, gymnastics and yoga studios, as of July 2, unless the space is licensed as a gym or a health club.
"It doesn't make any sense anymore; it's picking and choosing who's winning and who's losing and — you know, we've just had enough," Smith said.
The limited indoor recreation reopening involves 25% capacity and required face coverings, according to the state's COVID-19 page for NJ businesses.
Smith said to the Townsquare News Network of the state's request to change the locks on the gym a second time, "there's no doubt in my mind that they will get it."
He continued "Upon losing, we will be taking our front doors off the hinges and Frank and I will keep the gym open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week." Smith said in a Saturday social media post that he and Trumbetti would "not stand down unless forcibly removed."
"We knew at some point, that this day was gonna come, we're not hiding, we're not sneaking people in the back door, you know — our front door is open," Smith said.
He also said 4 months into the state's continued shutdown of gyms and fitness centers, "we have no plans to open and we've been given no help — the fact that anybody could think that's even remotely okay for any business or any family to go through is absurd," Smith said.
A GoFundMe campaign open since May 18, with Trumbetti listed as beneficiary, has raised more than $89,000 for "the defense of Atilis Gym Bellmawr members as well as staff and volunteers." The description said funds will also be utilized to pay bills for months the gym has been closed due to COVID-19.
A separate GoFundMe campaign set up in April by Smith, listed on behalf of his business partner, Trumbetti, also raised $17,535.
In that campaign, Smith wrote "All funds raised will go to pay rent, utilities, and other bills during the economic shutdown. Any money that is left over from fundraising will be donated back into the community when we reopen with some donations of our own to others who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19."
As of Sunday, NJ had 144 new positive cases of COVID-19, pushing the state’s running total to 176,783. That was lower than Saturday’s case count, at 176,814, “due to an issue related to electronic receipt of lab results and a high volume of duplicate case merges,” Murphy said in a social media update.
The governor also said the situation was “being looked into closely” and that they would try to resolve it as quickly as possible.
Also as of Sunday, the state's rate of transmission of the novel coronavirus was at 1.11, which means that each new positive case leads to one or slightly more than one more positive case.