Oxford town officials will enforce court orders and shut down Prime Fitness and Nutrition, but they are searching for a way to do it without generating a high-profile confrontation with gym owner David Blondin and anyone who may publicly support him, the town’s attorney said Wednesday.
“Mr. Blondin is flouting the law and making no effort to respect public health and safety guidelines,” said Mark Reich, town counsel for the Central Massachusetts community. “We are considering our options based on court orders on how best to proceed. We don’t want to make a spectacle.”
He added: “We are not happy about shutting down a business. This is not about a town coming down on a business. We are in a dreadful situation. We have to protect our citizens.”
Reich spoke in a telephone interview one day after Worcester Superior Court Judge Susan E. Sullivan authorized the town to escalate its effort to close the gym, which has been operating in violation of Governor Charlie Baker’s emergency shutdown order since at least May 19. At the request of the town, Sullivan issued a shutdown order June 4. Under Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan, gyms could reopen as early as June 29.
“I find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendants have disobeyed a clear and unequivocal command of this court and I order the town, through its board of health and with the assistance of local police, to close the building at 1 North Oxford Court, North Oxford, MA (“the premises”) and secure the premises in such a manner so as to prevent reentry by the defendants and others,” Sullivan wrote in a decision issued Tuesday.
Blondin told WBZ-TV Wednesday morning that he will continue to open his doors even though Sullivan also imposed a fine of $1,000 for each day he operates the fitness center.
“We will see what happens. ... If this case goes on for two years, so be it,‘‘' he said. “It doesn’t matter what I have to do to protect my business. It doesn’t matter to me.”
He later said in a video posted on his company’s Facebook page that he will host a “peaceful protest” against the town’s shutdown order this Saturday at the facility. Anyone who brings a sign protesting an issue including the town’s closure effort will be allowed to train, he said.
“All are welcome to come, protest, train, and fight for our rights,” he said. “People must have a protest sign while you work out. ... That is the only cost of training.‘'
“Gym lives matter. Mental health matters. Black Lives Matter. Freedom of speech matters,” he said. “Whatever you prefer … We need the support from everyone.”
According to the town of Oxford, nine people there have died from COVID-19 and 81 have been infected as of earlier this week. More than 7600 people have died from the coronavirus in Massachusetts.
Reich, in an e-mail, wrote that Blondin’s apparent protest plans “were quite disturbing and of great concern for the Town.”