One gym owner isn’t waiting for a green light from the state to reopen his business.
Dave Blondin, 30, the owner of Prime Fitness and Nutrition in Oxford, opened his gym Monday after being closed for weeks during the coronavirus pandemic. Blondin said people need to be able to exercise.
“People’s mental health is at risk,” he said Tuesday. “It’s been eight weeks now.”
But at about 4 p.m. Tuesday, town officials went to the gym and issued a written warning, citing Blondin for “opening a nonessential business during a state of emergency,” he said.
Under state regulations, the town could fine Blondin $300 per day beginning Wednesday, according to a town spokeswoman, who confirmed the written warning was delivered.
Gym members have offered to cover the costs if Blondin is fined, he said.
“I have a lot of supporters,” he said, including people who have reached out from as far away as Illinois and California.
Under the state’s reopening plan, announced Monday, gyms aren’t supposed to open until at least June 29.
Blondin said he doesn’t understand why some businesses, such as liquor stores, were allowed to stay open during the pandemic while others were forced to shut down and may not be allowed to open for several more weeks.
Although his fitness center has been closed, “the bills are still coming in,” he said.
Blondin has been running a nutrition business for 10 years. He opened the gym in Oxford three years ago.
When Blondin reopened his gym Monday, the town’s health inspector stopped by and gave him a verbal warning.
“Mr. Blondin made clear he had no intention of complying with the governor’s order or waiting until Phase 3 to resume operations,” Thomas Purcell, the town’s health agent, said in a statement.
Town Manager Jennifer Callahan said that many residents were upset about the gym reopening ahead of schedule.
“We have received many angry calls and emails from residents calling on the town to shutter this business immediately,” Callahan said in a statement. “Let it be clear, the town will take all measures necessary to ensure compliance, but will follow the procedures outlined by the enforcement guidance. If necessary, we are prepared to file an injunction should compliance not be reached."
More than 50 residents of Oxford have tested positive for coronavirus and eight have died, Callahan said.
But Blondin is holding his ground, saying he has received “tons of positive feedback, and very little negative feedback."
Blondin said he is taking the same precautions he was before the gym closed. A maximum of 25 people can be on a floor at any given time, and the gym is open to members only. He’s not accepting any new members, and workouts are limited to an hour. If there’s a line to get inside, he asks that people wait in their cars.
Blondin said dozens of members have worked out since the business reopened, and they’re happy to be back.
Blondin announced his plans on Facebook Sunday, the day before Governor Charlie Baker unveiled the state’s reopening plan.
“OK, so regardless of what is announced tomorrow, Prime is going to begin opening their doors tomorrow starting at 7 a.m.,” Blondin said in the post.
"I also would like to call upon all the gyms in Massachusetts to do the same. Whether you’re big, whether you’re small, whether you’re a studio, whatever you are, start opening your doors. We’re all in this together. If Walmart, that’s right down the street, can sit there and have 356 cars in there, then we can work out.”
Anisha Chakrabarti, Baker’s deputy communications director, said businesses must adhere to mandatory workplace safety standards.
“The administration is thankful that millions of individuals and countless businesses are playing their part to slow the spread and protect at risk individuals," she said in a statement. "All businesses have a responsibility to follow the mandatory workplace safety standards, and enforcement, if necessary, will be handled by state and local agencies.”
Businesses that refuse to comply with COVID-19 safety standards (after receiving oral and written warnings) may be subject to fines of up to $300, officials said.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh warned gym owners not to follow Blondin’s lead.
“If you’re a gym in Boston, do not open your doors,” he said. “The customers going in there, they’re putting themselves at health risk.”