ILION – Four months after Gov. Cuomo shut down gyms in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, there is still no word on when the forced closures will end, which has led some area facilities to come up with alternatives.
In mid-March, gyms, along with all other businesses state officials determined to be “non-essential,” were forced to close their doors. Originally slated to be part of phase 4 in the state’s reopening plan, at the eleventh hour gym owners discovered those plans had been amended, and they were no longer included. Cuomo has yet to announce any time line as to when gyms can reopen. With bills mounting and gym members clamoring for their workouts, some local fitness centers are doing their best to solve both problems.
Movement Strength and Fitness, in Ilion, has been offering virtual instruction for months, and recently began holding outdoor sessions, where participants can observe proper social distancing.
“We feel really strongly about maintaining health and following guidelines for that,” said Liz Hoffman, co-owner of Movement Strength and Fitness. “And we also feel strongly about maintaining health through fitness. Now more than ever, people’s mental health and physical health is extremely important. Between concern about our health and isolating and schooling from home, people are really stressed out. Working out is a great stress reliever and gyms are places where people can see friends and be encouraged and now they don’t have that.”
Thanks to some friends who are currently leasing Clapsaddle Farm on upper Otsego Street, Liz and husband Justin Hoffman have been able to start holding outdoor classes behind the farm house – in a quiet, grassy setting – as opposed to holding classes in the gym’s parking lot in downtown Ilion, Liz Hoffman said.
Taking health seriously, the Hoffman’s have disinfectant, hand wipes and masks available at every session (though wearing a mask is not required) and participants are encouraged to keep six feet apart.
While maintaining two locations has it’s inconveniences, and workouts are now dependent on weather conditions, the return of group workouts has been refreshing both for the Hoffman’s and their members, Liz Hoffman said.
“People need a space to get together and smile and be outside,” she said.
Jennifer Hand, of Ilion, agrees. On a break during Thursday’s evening class, Hand noted that she has a gym at home, but found she rarely used it during the past four months.
“Being around people ups the motivation and ups the intensity for my workouts,” she said. “The minute I heard about these classes, I said, ‘I’m in!’
“It’s frustrating when you go into these big stores and they’re full of people and so unsanitary,” Hand continued, “yet something so healthy and meant to strengthen the body in case we do fall ill, is banned.”
Elite Fitness in Herkimer is also gearing up to begin offering an outdoor workout space, said owner James Tangorra.
Initially, the forced shut down did not inconvenience Tangorra much as it happened to coincide with a planned shutdown of the gym as he moved to a new location on Marginal Road. But Tangorra did not intend to be shut down nearly this long.
“It gave me time to set up and take my time and get everything set up exactly the way I want it without rushing to reopen, but now it’s dragging on and with no end in sight, it’s starting to hurt a little,” he said.
Tangorra said he has ordered turf and is in the process of setting up an outdoor workout area behind the gym, complete with workout equipment.
“There will be plenty of space to spread out,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll have that ready within a couple weeks.”
While outdoor exercise helps alleviate the immediate problem of closed gyms, it is a temporary solution as it can only continue while the weather is warm. Hoping for a more permanent and positive solution, both the Hoffman’s and Tangorra have the joined the class action lawsuit brought against the state earlier this month by some 3,000 New York gyms.
The lawsuit is suing the state for $500 million for what it says is hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, along with the resultant layoffs of 70,000 employees statewide.
The plaintiffs allege that Cuomo’s executive shutdown order violated their due process, and that the decision to not allow gyms to open while spas, retail and other businesses operate is discriminatory. It also claims that the distinction between essential and nonessential businesses at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was arbitrary.
It further states that there is “no rational basis” to keep gyms and fitness centers closed since the governor announced the virus is contained, and such action deprives gym owners of “their liberty and property interests in performing services to willing customers when they can do so safely and in the same (or reasonably safe equivalent) manner as other businesses [are] allowed to operate.”