BELLMAWR, N.J. - A gym in southern New Jersey has reopened for business in defiance of a state order that shut down nonessential businesses to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“We truly believe that if we don’t do this, in the end, we will have zero rights and no say in what happens,” co-owner Frank Trumbetti said in a video posted on the gym’s Facebook page. Trumbetti has said he recently lost a loved one to the coronavirus.
People began gathering outside the Atilis Gym in Bellmawr several hours before it reopened at 8 a.m. Monday.
Around 10:30 a.m. Bellmawr police officers approached the door through the crowd to speak with the gym's owners. The officers informed them that they were "formally" in violation of the shutdown order.
"We are and only were here for everybody's safety today. We planned for the worst and hoped for the best, and it seems like that's what we have out here today," the officer said to the owners and surrounding crowd.
"Formally, you are all in violation of the executive order. On that note, have a good day. Everybody be safe," the officer said before walking away as the crowd erupted in cheer.
Police returned to the gym Monday afternoon and issued a disorderly conduct summons. A June court date has been scheduled.
State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan also said Monday clients were given a warning.
The owners have said the decision to resume operations at the members-only facility was not about financial gain, but rather a question of constitutional rights. They also say they plan on opening up again on Tuesday.
Gov. Phil Murphy said he wasn’t concerned other businesses would begin to follow suit because the state is beginning to take steps to reopen. He did, however, suggest the state might take action if the defiance continues.
“I’m not concerned it will spiral out of control, and we will take action,” Murphy said. “If you show up at that gym again tomorrow, there’s going to be a different reality than showing up today. These aren’t just words. We’ve got to enforce this, but I also don’t want to start World War III.”
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said, “New Jersey’s law enforcement officers are on the front lines of this pandemic – not just protecting and serving all residents, but also balancing public health and public safety as they enforce the Governor’s executive orders. Those individuals who violate the Governor’s orders make it harder for our officers to do their jobs and they put our officers at risk. I commend law enforcement’s bravery and diligence today and every day.”
"We think so far, this has been just a gross violation of constitutional rights," said Atilis Gym owner Ian Smith in an interview on Tucker Carlson Tonight. "The 14th Amendment states that no state shall pass any law that infringes upon our rights as citizens, and we’ve been forced into our homes. Enough is enough."
Smith said he has thought "long and hard" about his decision to reopen and decided that it would be done "from the heart with, not our best interest in mind, but what we feel is the greater good for ourselves, our community, and the state and nation as a whole."
The gym owners said they have taken several steps to ensure social distancing and taken other precautions, such as taping off workout stations and operating at 20% of the building’s capacity.
"The measures that we took are well above and beyond," Smith said. "We spread out the entire gym. Everything in the gym is more than six feet apart, including equipment. Every single person walking in the gym is going to have to follow instructions or leave."
Gov. Phil Murphy ordered fitness centers, movie theaters, and casinos closed on March 16 as part of the state’s efforts to fight the pandemic.
"Our actions on Monday are going to be grounded in the ideals of civil disobedience," Smith said. "What we intend to showcase is that we reject the premise of essential versus nonessential businesses. Anything that Walmart can do with hundreds, if not thousands, of people passing through the stores every day ... a small business, whether it be a restaurant, a gym, a hair salon, or anything else, can replicate those things ... and we plan to do that."
Smith has also said he is "prepared for any and all consequences" and had his attorneys with him when the gym reopened Monday morning, according to FOX 29's Steve Keeley.
Over the weekend, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office issued a reminder that non-essential businesses were to remain closed under Murphy's order, adding "anyone who patronizes a business that is open in violation of an executive order could face criminal charges in the form of a disorderly persons offense for which you could be fined up to $1,000 for each offense and spend up to six months in jail."
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.