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N.J. gym reopens, citing constitutional rights



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Small businesses in Columbus, Ohio are looking to the next phase as the state continues to deal with COVID-19 amid calls for a reopening of the economy. On Friday, some bakeries and barbershops reopened while staying safe. (May 15).

AP Domestic

BELLMAWR, New Jersey – A gym opened here Monday in defiance of the state’s COVID-19 emergency regulations, drawing patrons, protesters, police – and Fox and Friends weekend co-host Pete Hegseth.

The operators of The Atilis Gym got nationwide attention for their action, which was the focus of multiple reports during a Fox News morning show.

But they also received a summons for a disorderly persons offense, said Bellmawr Police Department Chief William Walsh.

He said the gym was operating in violation of an executive order that closed gyms and fitness centers as non-essential businesses.

Customers at the Browning Road gym received warnings, according to Col. Pat Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.

Gov. Phil Murphy suggested penalties could increase for future violations of the order, which was imposed March 21 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

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“If you show up at that gym tomorrow, there’s going to be a different reality than there was today,” Murphy said, without giving details.

“But I also don’t want to start World War III,” he added at a Trenton news conference.

On Monday afternoon, some patrons waited outside the 14,000-square-foot gym, where a sign said admission would be limited to 44 members at a time.

Some signs advised patrons to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Others had instructions for protesters: “Respect law enforcement at all time,” said one. “This is a peaceful gathering.”

Two placards outside the entrance had a message for Trenton. “All small business is essential,”one sign read.

“Let’s work together Mr. Murphy,” read another. “Together we can do this.”

The gym’s operators, Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith, could not be reached for immediate comment on the governor’s remarks.

They had publicized the planned reopening in social media posts and in TV and radio interviews with conservative hosts. Smith described the executive order as “a gross violation of constitutional rights” in an interview last week with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Hegseth broadcast from Monday’s event, at one point standing before dozens of gym supporters carrying American flags and protest signs.

Bellmawr police also were present “in order to protect the public’s safety and welfare,” Walsh said.

Many onlookers shown in Hegseth’s Fox & Friends segments did not wear masks and ignored social distancing guidelines. The gym, in contrast, emphasized multiple measures to promote hygiene.

A post at the gym’s Facebook page told members to wear masks “unless you are in the middle of your set,” to wipe down equipment after use, and to bring their own water bottles, among other directions.

“You will be given a medical questionnaire, as well as a waiver and a written copy of these rules,” it noted. “You must sign off in order to enter the facilities.”

In a May 13 video, Trumbetti urged supporters to gather for the gym’s reopening. “We’d love to fill the parking lot by 8 a.m.,” he said.

Trumbetti also noted his mother was hospitalized with COVID-19 “so trust me when I say I probably take this more seriously than probably almost anybody you know.”

Follow Jim Walsh on Twitter @jimwalsh_cp.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2020/05/19/atilis-gym-bellmawr-coronavirus-ian-smith-frank-trumbetti-phil-murphy/5219030002/





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