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'We want permission to reopen': NC gym owner says attorney is set to file legal complaint on Wednesday

In a Memorial Day rally in Raleigh, three gym owners say they plan to speak and share their concerns.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Gyms and other fitness centers across North Carolina continue banding together to fight for legal permission to reopen at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Memorial day, several gym owners planned to speak at a Reopen NC rally in Raleigh to voice their concerns. Then on Wednesday, gym owners say their attorney will file a legal complaint pushing for a restraining order to allow facilities to temporarily reopen.

As of Sunday, May 24, about 23,800 people have signed a change.org petition to allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen during Phase 2 of the state's three-part reopening plan.

Several Go-Fund-Me sites have been created to raise money for legal representation and court costs related to petitioning the government to allow fitness facilities to reopen.

Nearly $22,000 had been raised through one online fundraiser as of Sunday, which states that it plan to retain attorney Chuck Kitchen, who worked with the push to allow hair salons to reopen. 

"We’re a group of North Carolina business owners (health clubs, fitness centers, fitness instructors, dance studios, martial arts studios, etc) who have been denied the right to go back to work and make a living for our families—by Governor Cooper’s executive orders keeping our businesses closed until at least Phase 3 of his reopening plan," the Go-Fund-Me description states.

Ed Smith is the president and owner of Fit4Life, a company with 12 gyms and 20,000 members throughout North Carolina. He said he and other gym owners have already paid Kitchen his retainer fee, and that the attorney plans to file the legal complaint on Tuesday, May 26.

"We are concerned that the governor thinks he has the right to shut down private businesses," Smith said. "We know how to space it out, keep it clean, we know how to limit the numbers.

Smith said he and two other gym owners will speak in Raleigh on Memorial Day, Monday.

"Health clubs aren't just for people who want to stay fit," Smith said.

In a press conference on Thursday, Dr. Mandy Cohen discussed the rational for gyms and fitness centers to remain closed during phase 2.

Cohen said that working out increases the transmission of respiratory droplets, through which the coronavirus is transmitted.

In Greensboro, the owner of Octagon MMA and Krav Maga said he has donated to the Go-Fund-Me to retain the legal services of Chuck Kitchen.

"We have lost probably about a third of our membership, but a lot of people who can pay have continued to pay, because they want a place to come back to when this is all said and done. It's still been a really big hit for us financially," said owner David Stacy.

The gym owner said he does not understand why gyms continue to be shut down at this stage of the pandemic, and he believes that people may face physical and mental health consequences related to a lack of access to fitness.

"The whole point of this is trying to improve people's health, and by keeping gyms closed, we are not allowing that to happen," said Stacy.

Stacy said he applied for financial relief for his business during the pandemic but was unable to obtain money.

"We applied for the loans and everything, but they were all gone," Stacy said.

Stacy's martial arts and Krav Maga studio is 7,500 square feet. He said he had planned to open at one-third normal operation, spreading his patrons apart, before the announcement that gyms would not be included in Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan.

"We were going to put plenty of safety protocols in place: Temperature checks, screening when people came in, making sure people had hand sanitizer when they came in," Stacy said.

His facility's last class before the shutdown was March 13, and he has not held any events there since.

"I don't want to put (our members) into a position where they are are coming back, and they are breaking the law. There have been many stories of gyms getting raided during classes in the middle of the day, and the members are threatened with citations," Stacy said.

While Stacy said his gym, which has been open for more than a decade, is fortunate that it will be able to weather the financial storm until Phase 3 of reopening. But he said other gyms have not been as lucky.

"For our gym, we are going to survive, but I have a lot of friends at different gyms throughout the state, and they have already closed. they are not coming back," Stacy said. 

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