Town Issuing Fines, Could Seek Court Order
SOUTH CHATHAM — Saying he’s being strong-armed by state regulators, the owner of a local fitness center opened his doors in defiance of the state closure last Wednesday. The owner of Bodystrong Fitness said the company needs to make money to survive.
“We opened against the governor’s order because we have to at this point. It’s been two months,” majority owner Colin Eitelbach said. “I have to open for my family’s sake.”
Under the reopening plan announced by Gov. Charlie Baker Monday, businesses will open in four phases. Fitness centers and gymnasiums are slated to open in Phase 3, which will happen no sooner than June 29, provided that there is a continued decline in the number of cases of COVID-19. If numbers don’t decline as quickly as predicted, the next phases of reopening could be postponed.
“They’re talking July. It’s too long,” Eitelbach said.
Not long after the business opened, the town health department received a complaint and visited the business to investigate. Officials told Eitelbach that he had to close his doors, and he refused to do so.
Chatham Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said the business was given a verbal warning Wednesday, and a written warning Thursday. On Friday, town officials issued a $100 citation, and on Tuesday they levied a $200 fine. The next violation would be a $300 fine.
“Then it’s a cease and desist order, then it goes to court,” Duncanson said.
Eitelbach said he’s confident his business is safe. The 10,000-square-foot size of the gym allows people to spread out, he said.
“You can fit 25 people in there, no problem,” he said. Every other machine has been turned off to encourage social distancing, and each machine has its own spray bottle of sanitizer. Customers and staff are temperature-checked with a thermal scanner before they are allowed to enter, he added.
“We are doing more than any other store around,” he said.
But Bodystrong is not making money since it opened last week.
“Not right now. But that wasn’t the point. We’re making a statement,” Eitelbach said. He has retained the services of a civil liberties lawyer, and said he was surprised when his decision to open was covered by Boston news outlets. Fitness centers have been allowed to open in other states, he said.
“I get that there’s human lives at stake here,” Eitelbach said. “I just don’t feel like they can pick and choose who can open and who can’t.”
Eitelbach said his interactions with Health Agent Judith Giorgio have been mostly cordial.
“She has a job to do, and we totally respect that,” he said.
On their first day of operation, Bodystrong had around 15 customers show up.
“Everyone was ecstatic,” he said. Since then, there have been an average of 50 people coming through the doors each day, Eitelbach added. “For mental health and wellness, they just need it. And that’s what we’ve been saying all along. There are people who need this in their lives.”
Eitelbach owns the Chatham location of Bodystrong along with Cory Clark and Jessica Clark. There are no immediate plans to open the business’ Orleans location, which is currently undergoing some construction, he said.
Public health officials say gymnasiums pose a greater risk of COVID transmission because of the shared equipment and because people breathe heavily when exercising, potentially spreading the virus through airborne droplets.