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NJ Health Dept. Shuts Down Gym That Defied Order

Brock Fritz

A New Jersey gym that had been opening in defiance of the state’s executive order has been shut down by the N.J. Department of Health.

According to FOX29 Philadelphia, Atilis Gym in Bellmawr had been opening all week, but taped to the front window Thursday morning was a four-page order signed by NJ Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, as well as a Camden County Notice of Embargo.

FOX29’s Steve Keeley spoke with owners Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith after the closure. They called it a bump in the road, saying members could work out in the parking lot Thursday and they would reopen Friday.

NBC News reported earlier this week that Trumbetti and Smith were both charged multiple times on a summons with a disorderly person’s offense. NBC10 Philadelphia posted video of people gathering outside Atilis Gym prior to its opening at 8 a.m. Monday, which came in defiance of governor Phil Murphy’s March 16 executive order to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Video from Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Ellie Rushing shows police arriving Monday morning to speak with the owners. NBC10 reporter Miguel Martinez-Valle posted video from Tuesday, when the gym was issued its second citation.

"According to our beliefs, we have been allowing our members in because of the wording of Governor Murphy's executive order stating the gym had to remained closed to the public," Trumbetti said, according to FOX29. "We have stood firm, as long as we let members in, we are not doing anything that's against the law and criminal. The paperwork that's on the window, we don't know if it's actually deemed legal or not because they put it on in the middle of the night. We were not served with those papers." 

A Wednesday sewage backup at Atilis caused the gym to evacuate and emergency plumbing crews to respond to the scene. The owners told Keeley that the backup was caused by paper towels stuffed into the plumbing, which they are investigating because they say there are no paper towels in Atilis' bathrooms.

A GoFundMe for Atilis says the gym didn’t qualify for any government bailout money because it hasn’t been in operation for a year and doesn’t have full-time staff. It has raised more than $17,000 as of Thursday morning.

Atilis had opened with new health guidelines in place. Some workout stations were taped off, while the gyms capacity was limited to about 44 people at a time. Members had their temperatures taken at the doors, and were required to wear masks unless they were in the middle of lifting weights.

New Jersey had 150,399 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 10,747 deaths, as of Wednesday afternoon.

Related content: California Gym Owner Defies Order, Opens Days After Arrest

A similar situation is ongoing in Oxford, Mass. According to MassLive, Prime Fitness & Nutrition opened its doors Monday morning, and owner David Blondin has said he has no plans on stopping.

“I have a lot of support behind me,” Blondin said when reopening for the first time since April 1, noting he lost about $100,000 in revenue. “I’ve had more positive feedback than anything.

“All small businesses need to take a stand and open their doors. This is impacting our businesses and our families.”

The first phase of Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker’s four-stage plan for reopening the state began Monday. According to Boston.com, the first phase includes the construction and manufacturing industries returning to work, but not gyms. Health clubs and gyms are part of the third phase.

Blondin told MassLive that about 100 people came in to work out Monday, and another 150 came Tuesday. The gym is limiting its capacity to 25 people working out upstairs, and another 25 downstairs. Blondin isn’t recommending face masks to prevent people from passing out, but he says masks aren’t banned.

A GoFundMe was started to help raise funds for the fines Prime Fitness will likely accrue if it continues to open. The page said that any donations not used toward fines would be donated to mental health organizations to help those suffering during the pandemic.

“While we certainly understand many are anxious to resume business as usual, we ask for continued patience and understanding as we continue to respond to this unprecedented public health crisis,” Oxford Police Chief Anthony Saad said in a statement, while MassLive noted that Oxford town officials said many residents have reached out asking the town to close Prime.

“Mr. Blondin made clear he had no intention of complying with the Governor’s Order,” Thomas Purcell, Oxford Board of Health agent, said. “The Board of Health is empowered to ensure compliance with the Governor’s Orders and phased re-opening of Massachusetts.”

Related content: Independent Gym Owners in Ohio Sue for Right to Reopen

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